Human Capital in Early Modern Poland and Russia

There have been some recent debates on this blog’s comments threads about human capital in Poland, Russia, and the West Russian lands while they were under Polish rule. While there is a consensus that Poland was more intellectually advanced than Russia, at least during the 17th century, the relative position of the Ukraine and Belorussia is subject to dispute.

Fortunately, there is a paper that crisply answers this puzzle:

Baten, Jörg, Mikołaj Szołtysek, and Others. 2014.A Golden Age before Serfdom? The Human Capital of Central-Eastern and Eastern Europe in the 17th-19th Centuries.” Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.

There weren’t any censuses that took stock of literacy back then, so Baten et al. rely on a proxy: Numeracy. This is a figure that is derived from the tendency of innumerates to “age heap” – to give their ages as a multiple of five, because they can’t remember their real age (though there are a few amusing exceptions; the Chinese, for instance, used to heap in multiples of twelve. Guess why). Strong correlations have been observed between innumeracy and illiteracy rates in the Third World during the second half the 20th century (though it is worth bearing in mind that these figures are generally dissimilar; it is much easier to acquire numeracy than to acquire literacy, after all, so in largely illiterate countries, numeracy is much higher than literacy).

Consequently, it is logical to posit that the relationship held before that as well:

Earlier evidence suggests that during the 15th century, numeracy levels varied across Europe from 72 percent ABCC in the Netherlands, to 55 percent in northern Italy, to 40 percent in Germany, and down to 18 percent in southern Italy (A’Hearn et al. 2009). Juif and Baten (2011) found that Spain and Portugal had numeracy levels of around 60 percent in both the early and the late 17th century.

Hence, the northwestern and southern European regions were clearly more numerate than all of the eastern European regions we are assessing here during the 18th and 19th centuries, although Poland did not differ very much from the European south during the 17th century (values for the south from Juif and Baten 2011). Moreover, the trends of convergence and the slowdown in the individual regions are interesting. Russia started at a much lower level than Poland, or at around 20 percent in the early 17th century; but the gap between Russia and Poland had declined to less than five percent in the mid-18th century. During the 19th century, human capital again started to accumulate, and the problem of basic numeracy was almost solved by around 1900.

Poland displayed stagnant levels of numeracy throughout much of the 17th and the early 18th centuries (around 60 percent), whereas the European south grew by some 20 ABCC points during this period. Levels of basic numeracy continued to increase in Poland during the middle decades of the 18th century, and, like in Russia, the problem was solved by around 1900. During the 19th century, a steady upward trend can be discerned in all of the eastern European regions.

However, among the countries studied here, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine lagged behind the most. During the early to mid-18th century, numeracy still stood at around 20 percent in Lithuania, 40 percent in Belarus, and 50 percent in Ukraine. Ukraine then began to develop rapidly, which resulted in Ukrainian numeracy levels overtaking Russian levels during the 19th century. It would be interesting to investigate whether the migration of Jewish people from the Polish-Lithuanian regions to Ukraine also stimulated this surge in Ukrainian numeracy. Belarus and Lithuania experienced the most rapid growth in their numeracy levels during the 19th century.

The relatively large discrepancy between Polish and Russian levels early on, and the much larger gap during the 18th century between Russia and the territories of Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine, are among the major findings here.

Note that Belorussia was actually (re)acquired by Russia 50-150 years later than the lands of the Ukraine, so prolonged exposure to Russian rule couldn’t have been the cause of the discrepancy there.

Polish Lead Turns to Stagnation, Russia Catches Up, Ukraine/Belarus Worst Off

So according to that graph:

  • Russia started out much less numerate than Poland in the 17th century; this is probably centuries in the making, a result of its Byzantine legacy and/or the Tatar yoke cutting off communications with Western Europe.
  • However, Russia had converged with a stagnating Poland by the mid-18th century.
  • The Ukraine, Belorussia, and Lithuania were all much less numerate than both the Poles and the Great Russians since records for them become available during the 18th century.
  • However, the Ukrainians had converged with Russia by around 1800, while the Belorussians caught up 50 years later. In both cases, around 50 years after having had their main mass join the Russian Empire.

All of these are points as highly plausible, as they are well in line with the general consensus on intellectual trends in that region.

Here are the fine details:

While the Ukraine was doing as well as Russia by the 19th century, note a couple of things:

First, the territories of Novorossiya – subject to Russian/Ukrainian settlement, as well as lighter serfdom – were doing systemically better than the lands of Ukraine proper. Meanwhile, central/historic Ukraine was doing about as well (badly) as Central Russia, and only modestly better than Belorussia.

Second, the Jews were always far more literate than the Gentiles in the Russian Empire, so as per above, they likely bumped Ukraine up by quite a bit.


The authors make a rather convincing case that the main driver of the long stagnation in Polish human capital, and the main retardant to its expansion in Russia, may well have been the “second serfdom.”

The second serfdom hypothesis is also commonly cited in the economic history literature (Kula, 1976; Millward 1982; Cerman 2008; Ogilvie and Edwards 2000; also Sosnowska 2004). Scholars have noted that historical Poland and Russia in particular were affected by noble landlordism and village subjection (Hagen, 1998; also Mironov, 1996). The dramatic expansion of the powers landlords had over the rural population in these areas was closely related to a rapid rise in agricultural commodity values in the west caused by the 16th-century “price revolution.” The eastern European landowners responded to this trend by expanding their previously modest familial manor farms into large-scale domanial economies designed to produce surpluses for sale on the urban markets of western Europe. This type of seigneurialism prompted landlords to demand from their peasant subjects not only rents in cash and kind, but above all labor services, which were essential to the very functioning of the demesne farms (Szołtysek 2008a). Serfs therefore had relatively few incentives or opportunities to invest in the kind of basic education which would have enabled them to understand the numeracy concept applied in this study.

Moreover, if we look at the distribution of the share of serfs in the Russian Empire during the mid-19th century, a clear regional pattern emerges (Figure 3). Especially in a central corridor between Belarus (Minsk) and Nizhny Novgorod, the share of serfs was particularly large. By contrast, there were relatively few serfs in the thinly populated regions of both the northeast and the southeast. During the late serfdom period, the southeast in particular had a slightly less oppressive system of Obrok (defined as feudal obligations that were paid in money or kind), whereas the corvée system of compulsory labor was more typical in other regions. The share of serfs actually corresponds quite well with the regional distribution of numeracy and literacy. In Figures 1 and 2, the ABCC index of numeracy is compared with the numeracy rate. The former is defined as the share of persons who probably know their age with an annual resolution.

Here is a series of maps that make the point:

The central band from Belorussia to the Volga has the lowest literacy and the lowest numeracy, while it is systematically higher in both Novorossiya, the Kuban, and the Russian North/Northeast*.

Which, as Grigoriev, Lapteva, and Lynn first pointed out, in turn correlates with modern IQ scores for Russia. However, I would note that the correlation is not straightforward. While South Russians today tend to get lower IQ scores today, they were more literate/numerate than most Central Russians in 1897.

This raises the additional egg/chicken question of what came first: Heavy serfdom, intelligence, or numeracy/literacy?

I will attempt a preliminary answer. Note that Central Russians did badly on both literacy and numeracy. Belorussians are probably about as bright as Central Russians, but were even more illiterate and innumerate. The high IQ Yaroslavl/Kostroma/Vologda triangle did relatively well on literacy and on numeracy; about as well as Novorossiya/Kuban – possibly the high IQ was “cancelled out” by heavy serfdom. The far North and Northeast was about as literate as South Russia, and even more numerate (despite the greater difficulty of setting up schools in its far flung vastnesses). Consequently, serfdom really did seem to have had an independent and highly negative effect on historical Russian human capital formation.

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. TLDR: melanf won.

  2. Grandpa Barsoap says

    Chinese, for instance, used to heap in multiples of twelve. Guess why

    Was the challenge to guess serious?

    It’s because you can easily count to twelve on the four fingers of one hand, by placing the tip of your thumb on each of the knuckle joints of the fingers.

  3. Peripatetic Commenter says

    the Chinese, for instance, used to heap in multiples of twelve. Guess why

    The Chinese Zodiac.


  4. Which is probably inspired by the lunar year cycle.

  5. Peripatetic Commenter says

    Sure, but every Chinese person brought up in Chinese culture knows which animal year they were born in, and in the days before good literacy etc, many of them would probably have rounded to the nearest 12.

  6. It is curious how Max Planck’s name is appended to these various organizations totally unrelated to physics. Like anthropology and this institute, which from a short reading of its website, seems to have a definite leftist bent.

    So where did heavy serfdom come from? I’d guess it was easier to confiscate food in Eastern Europe. Cold means short growing season. Lack of coast – harder to trade or fish for food.

  7. On the one hand it seems very archaic, but probably makes it easier to remember your real age.

    BTW, old censuses in the West often showed a funny trend. For young men, age was often rounded downward. For the elderly, there was a bias to round up. Sometimes by about ten years. You get the idea that old age was really unkind back then. And, IMO, it shows in some old pictures.

  8. No. Our debate concerned the 15th-17th centuries, when all of Ukraine was part of the Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

    While Ukraine is not covered in almost these years on the graph, extrapolating the line backward from 1700 (when Ukraine first shows up), it was clearly ahead of Russia in the 1600s.

    There is a gap between 1700 and 1750 for Russia. These are the years when Russia leaped ahead of Ukraine. Due in no small part to the brain drain from newly-acquired Ukraine.

    Excellent post.

    Looking further at the graph – looks like Ukraine was about the same as eastern Poland in 1710 (41% Ukraine, 43% Warsaw region). There is no data for Russia that year but it was probably around 45%. Peter had really been modernizing his country.

    Belarus and Lithuania (one entity) were behind Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Given that Lithuania lagged behind even Belarus, it looks like Lithuania depressed Belarussian cultural development, while Poland did not do the same for Ukraine (again, given trend lines it looks like Ukraine was easily ahead of Russia in the 1600s before it left Poland).

  9. prime noticer says

    which country is city 17 in. that is the real question. gordon freeman deserves answers.

  10. Polish Perspective says

    Yes, serfdom had a very depressing effect on economic development. Van Zanden (one of the main people running the Maddison Project these days, and a prominent Dutch economist) collaborated with a Polish development economist to produce an interesting paper on Poland’s place in the so-called “Little Divergence”, i.e. the initial divergence within Europe as NW Europe pulled ahead from both Southern and even more so Eastern Europe before the colonial empires started to form.

    What Van Zanden found was that income equality was in fact greater in Poland than in Holland. The difference lay in the extraction rate, i.e. Poland had high rates of serfdom so this income equality didn’t do much. The urban-rural divide was also far stronger in Poland, due to the effects of the demesne economy which in turn was based on serfdom as well. There were few incentives to work hard as almost all that you earned was confiscated by an extractive elite through the serfdom system.

    There’s a parallel here to modern economics. Economists differentiate between market income and post-tranfer income. Market income is what you get before taxes or any re-distributional effects kick in. Many relatively egalitarian countries in fact have very high market income inequality, such as Norway or Denmark. They would be no less unequal than Russia unless there were specific policies in place, which is shaped social norms and a broad societal consensus (i.e. the ‘Nordic model’). While there are high taxes, the people also get a lot back. That wasn’t the case with serfdom.

    Serfdom was then social choice made by the elites in Poland, Russia and much of Eastern Europe. This is what political scientists refer to as extractive institutions. When elites don’t care about the welfare about the people at large, they can get rich in the short-term (i.e. the duration for their lives) but there will be long-term stagnation as a cost to such policies.

  11. Polish Perspective says

    How can extractive institutions can be broken? Marcin Piatkowski has a recent book out on the Polish transformation in the post-89 period which tackles this question. He notes that the post-89 period was remarkable not just in terms of growth rates but also how that growth was achieved.

    Inequality was contained and has in fact been falling in recent years. There are no Polish oligarchs. Incomes have been rising faster for bottom half than for the upper half since 1989. Growth was not just rapid, it has also been inclusive.

    What allowed Poland to develop along lines which had never happened before in its history, due to the norious “nobles” who instituted serfdom for so long and did everything in their power to block any reform?

    He essentially makes the point that extractive elites are extremely hard to dislodge through peaceful means and essentially need to be violently purged either through a civil war or a foreign invasion that is very thorough in its destruction and essentially liquidates the old extractive elite comprehensively.

    If you think about China, this happened in rapid succession. First the Japanese invasion and then the bloody civil war on top. Mao purged all and everything in his path. Had he gone in 1950, then China could well be on South Korean or Japanese levels today. Marcin’s point was that by the time Deng came to power, all the old elites had been swept away and it was much easier to form a social consensus.

    In Poland, WWII had the same effect as in China and communism had the same effect as Mao. This is where it becomes somewhat controversial, because while communism was a bad system it did do what previous Polish elites failed: to educate the people properly and evenly. It also purged previous elites completely by dismantling the last vestiges of the “nobles”, which is their offspring who ran much of the country in the interwar period.

    By the time the system collapsed, Poland had excellent human capital to start with, no extractive elites left (plus you had the ’68 purge of jews, but Marcin naturally wouldn’t touch that). Ukraine also had some of this, but the key difference was the internal divide between elites about whether to orient themselves to Russia or to the EU, this led to paralysis and made them easy to exploit for outsiders. Polish elites were unanimous about their direction. We had 17 prime ministers since 1989 yet virtually everyone basically held onto the same basic consensus, which has given us policy stability.

    Another interesting book on this topic is Jeff Sachs’ book in his memoirs in Poland and Russia, given that he was deeply involved in both. Once again the striking thing that jumps out at you is how consistent Polish elites were in their consensus whereas there were much more internal divides in Russia. Sachs doesn’t speculate as to why this was the case, but I have my guess.

    Poland was essentially bankrupt by 1989. It had defaulted in the early 1980s and couldn’t pay its interest. It was basically the Greece of the 1980s except much more poor and without a bailout piggy bank to draw funds from. Therefore, Poland basically had no real choice but to do rapid reform. Russia, on the other hand, was in a bad position but definitely not in default. Russia was also much richer in per capita income in 1990 than Poland was, so there was far more latitude being taken among various elites about the right path to take. In Poland, events had essentially forced our hand. We were poorer than both Ukraine and Bulgaria in the late 80s and in a state of ruin.

    Why did Poland go bankrupt in the early 1980s? Bierut tried to import a lot of modern machinery in the 1970s without changing the basic system. The idea was alluringly simple: just modernise the factories without changing much of the rest. The modern machinery will increase production and exports and pay for themselves. It didn’t work, because pricing was still irrational. Polish exports didn’t increase much but all this expensive machinery had to be paid with something, so they borrowed. This reached the end of the road in the early 1980s and Poland defaulted on its sovereign debt. Gorbachev tried a similar tactic in the mid-80s in Russia. In a sense, Russia was a decade behind Poland in failed economic experiments. By the time the late 80s came about, we were under no delusions that you had to have rapid changes. In Russia, that realisation didn’t come about so naturally nearly as early and even when it did, it wasn’t anchored among elites as deeply. Had Gorbachev learned from the Polish 70s experience, it could very well have meant that Russia would perhaps at worst stagnated during the 1990s before the 2000s oil boom instead of seeing a rapid collapse. Another reason to be skeptical of Western praise for the man and remember Deng’s acidic remark about him being an idiot.

  12. Please pardon my extreme ignorance, but on which records and documents did people state their ages in the pre-industrial era? Marriage records? Death records? What else?

  13. Yes, serfdom had a very depressing effect on economic development.

    Perhaps this is true for Poland, but it is definitely not true for Russia. In Russia, about half of the peasants were free peasants (working on their own land) and the other half were serfs. Among the serfs approximately 60% pay the landlord the rent, and 40% practiced corvee in the fields of the landowner. The latter category were the only real serfs. So it is known that (under the same climatic conditions) the highest yields and the most modern agricultural machinery had estates using corvee. Lower yields had serfs who paid rent. Russian free peasants (with the exception of some sectarians) had the lowest yields, and the most backward methods of agriculture. Since only the presence of commercial grain could ensure the existence of cities (and any non-agricultural population) , without serfdom, Russia would be much more backward (it would probably be simply impossible for Russia to exist as independent State).

  14. These institutes used to be named Kaiser Wilhelm Societies (Wilhelm II was famous for supporting science in Germany) but were renamed for PC reasons after WWII.

  15. Yes, that kind of thing. Also tombstones. From Greg Clark’s A Farewell to Alms:

    Table 9.3, for example, shows five age declarations of a prosperous landowner, Aurelius Isidorus, in Roman Egypt in the third century AD. No two of the declarations are consistent. Clearly Isidorus had no clear idea of his own age. Within two years’ time he gives ages that differ by eight years. Other sources show that Isidorus was illiterate.

    Isidorus’s age declarations show a common pattern for those who are innumerate and illiterate. That is a tendency to round the age to one ending in a 0 or a 5. In populations in which ages are recorded accurately, 20 percent of the recorded ages will end in 5 or 0. We can thus construct a score variable H—which measures the degree of “age heaping,” where and X is the percentage of age declarations ending in 5 or 0—to measure the percentage of the population whose real age is unknown. This measure of the percentage of people who did not know their true age correlates moderately well with literacy rates in modern societies.

    A lack of knowledge of their true age was widespread among the Roman upper classes as evidenced by age declarations made by their survivors on tombstones, which show a high degree of age heaping (table 9.4). Typically half had ages unknown to their survivors. Age awareness did correlate with social class. More than 80 percent of officeholders’ ages were known to relatives. When we compare this with death records for modern Europe we find that by the eve of the Industrial Revolution age awareness in the general population had increased markedly. In the eighteenth century in Paris only 15 percent of the general population had unknown ages at the time of death, in Geneva 23 percent, and in Liege 26 percent.

  16. Okay, that actually makes sense. I take the confident statement in melanf’s win back. Assuming the Ukraine tracked Polish trends if at a consistently lower average, it would indeed have been modestly above Russia’s level throughout the 17th century, which would tally with your comments about brain drain.

    I wonder if your observation about Lithuania may have anything to do with Belorussia not acquiring a strong national identity.

  17. No need to put MORE tags on your posts. I usually do that with comments that are long and low quality, and/or include huge block quotes. However, your comments are very K-selected and fulfill neither condition!

  18. Okay, that actually makes sense. I take the confident statement in melanf’s win back

    Thanks. The other thing I’d like to emphasize is that Poland’s average was boosted by high-performing Krakow and western regions. Eastern Poland (such as around Warsaw) was, as I noted, about the same as Ukraine. This suggests that there wasn’t some sort of colonial discrimination of Ukrainians.

    I wonder if your observation about Lithuania may have anything to do with Belorussia not acquiring a strong national identity.

    I think it does. Keith Darden did really good work showing that national identity really comes down to the conditions when a society became fully literate – this determines the type of national identity. In Belarus it came very late and it came under the Soviets so it was all about brotherhood with Russians and was “streamlined” with Russian identity.

    Darden’s article:

  19. Assuming the Ukraine tracked Polish trends if at a consistently lower average, it would indeed have been modestly above Russia’s level throughout the 17th century, which would tally with your comments about brain drain.

    For the lands under Polish rule, only the Orthodox population should be taken into account. When most of the nobles are Polеs (Catholics) and most of the citizens are Jews, the literacy of the indigenous population will be significantly lower than the average literacy for the entire population on these lands.

    About brain drain is easy to check. If this factor existed, the part of ” Ukraine “which was (since the middle of the 17th century) under the power of Russia, had to lag behind the Polish part of” Ukraine “and”Belarus”. In reality, the situation was the opposite-all major artists / scientists from the West Russian lands (Gogol, Ostrogradsky, Levitsky, … ), were natives exclusively from the Russian part of “Ukraine”. On this “brain drain” – complete nonsense

  20. It was all due to the presence of Jews, who were there during the PLC days too.

  21. When most of the nobles are Polеs (Catholics)

    Most of the nobles were western Rus people. Some of them – majority of the rich magnates – were converts to Catholicism (or their children) but this was a tiny minority of the general population. Most, particulsrly the lesser gentry, were Orthodox. Hundreds if not thousands of them participated with nobleman Khmelnytsky in the uprising.

    About brain drain is easy to check. If this factor existed, the part of ” Ukraine “which was (since the middle of the 17th century) under the power of Russia, had to lag behind the Polish part of” Ukraine “and”Belarus”. In reality, the situation was the opposite-all major artists / scientists from the West Russian lands (Gogol, Ostrogradsky, Levitsky, … ), were natives exclusively from the Russian part of “Ukraine”. On this “brain drain”

    The actual explanation:

    Kiev and eastern lands were always more developed, even under Poland, than the Right Bank (that remained as part of Poland), recall the Kiev Academy. Also the rebellion utterly devastated the Right Bank while leaving the Left Bank less disturbed .

  22. Jews were relatively illiterate in those times also. Plus, they were more common in the Right Bank which has lower level of development than the Left Bank part of Ukraine.

  23. Great post Anatoly (do you even sleep at night?). A lot to absorb and ponder. A lot of great comments so far too.

    What I come away with from my first quick read here is that IQ in any region can actually change dramatically within a relatively short amount of time (taken within the context of evolutionary time) by external factors such as concurrent social trends that include the positive effects of numeracy on literacy, or the influx of a new ethnos into a region (Jews wherever they moved), or even the effects on an area with a less/more onerous peasant manorial obligations. Of course to get a wider perspective, it would be interesting to see the effects of diet on regional IQ advancement – how certain areas progressed in IQ development by the effects of adding valuable proteins (meat) to their diet.

  24. Most of the nobles were western Rus people. Some of them – majority of the rich magnates – were converts to Catholicism (or their children) but this was a tiny minority of the general population. Most, particulsrly the lesser gentry, were Orthodox. Hundreds if not thousands of them participated with nobleman Khmelnytsky in the uprising.

    I want to expand on this. Perhaps up to 10% of the population were Polish, but most of these were illiterate Mazovian peasants who came to Ukraine due to lighter serfdom obligations, and mixed with the Ukrainian peasants and assimilated into them. They would not have changed the overall rate of educated people.

    The overwhelming majority of nobles in Western Rus were Rus.* Most Rus magnates (perhaps a hundred or two hundred people out of 4 million people in these lands) became Roman Catholics, but they were still Rus people and at any rate their number was negligible. This leaves some Polish magnates (Potocki family) and Polish lesser noble settlers but it was perhaps 1% of the population on these territories. Not enough to make a big difference in the overall results and moreover probably not significantly more educated than their western Rus peers.

    Jews, as I mentioned, were not terribly literate in these territories at these times, though probably more educated than peasants. They were maybe 5% of the population but were cleared out of the Left Bank which had higher level of education anyways. They would not have skewed the number of educated that much.

    • All the Hetmans and majority of Cossack officers were Rus noblemen. All the nobles in some entire counties joined the uprising with Khmelnytsky. Even long after Pereyaslav they continued to speak Polish (such as Orlyk’s letters, archived in France).

    Anti-PLC uprising was basically a civil war of Orthodox Polish and Latin-speaking Rus lesser noblemen joining with peasants, in order to preserve traditional liberties against increasing power of mostly Catholic Rus magnates who also had some supporters among Orthodox lesser nobles.

  25. Colin Wright says

    I’m skeptical of the whole notion that reported ages would be useful as an indicator of literacy.

    Surely one reason ages would be approximated would be whether the respondent was reporting his own age or some local notable was reporting on his behalf.

    Ask each of my neighbors their age, and you’ll get reasonably precise figures. Ask me to tell you, and you’ll get ’50, 70, 85, 60…’

    The variable here is the method used to collect data, not numeracy. The method used is in itself potentially revealing of several things, but doesn’t tell us much about actual numeracy per se.

  26. These concerns seem to have been addressed, if you read the paper:

    Also use of church records in many cases would indicate that Jews weren’t being recorded so this proposed confound might have been further minimized.

  27. Keith Darden also argued that the territories which were a part of the Ukrainian SSR up to 1939 also developed a pro-Russian Soviet fraternal identity as a result of being educated under Tsarist and Soviet rule. This might also explain why these territories strongly supported transforming the USSR into an EU-type union in early 1991 while Galicia did not and while Volhynia was much more lukewarm about this.

  28. the territories which were a part of the Ukrainian SSR up to 1939 also developed a pro-Russian Soviet fraternal identity as a result of being educated under Tsarist and Soviet rule.

    To an extent. A Ukrainian nationalist ideology had been created long before Soviet rule, and applied in Galicia. This was dusted off and widely introduced in Soviet Ukraine in the 1920s, modified by removing the more extreme anti-Russian elements (many of the teachers were even Galicians who crossed the border). I suspect the Belarussian story was made more from scratch and thus much more amenable to the East Slavic brotherhood idea than what was taught in Soviet (Central and Eastern/Southern) Ukraine.

  29. You wrote that Poland-Lithuania was better developed intellectually “at least during the 17th century”

    In 18. century as well, particularly thx to the creation of Commission of National Education in 1773 which set up a lot of state schools and in 20 years managed to educate 100 000+ people. One polish historian of Russia said that in 1815 in the Russian Empire, more people could write and read in polish than in russian. He also gave statistics on how many books, subscriptions to magazines, newspapers there were in 18. century P-L and Russia, but I’m too lazy to find it right now. Of course at the time, England, France and Holland were absolutely ahead in everything.

    Obviously Russia in 18. century was only getting involved more intensively in the intellectual exchange in Europe, so some time had to pass before it caught up with others.

  30. What about education in Ukraine during Tsarist times? Was it more amenable to the idea of East Slavic brotherhood?

    Keith Darden’s data shows that Novorossiya generally had 50-something percent of its population made literate during Tsarist times while central Ukraine had 40-something percentage of its population made literate during Tsarist times. (In comparison, Galicia had 60-something percentage of its population made literate during Austrian rule.)

  31. What about education in Ukraine during Tsarist times? Was it more amenable to the idea of East Slavic brotherhood?

    Ideologically yes, but it wasn’t widespread. I suspect the volunteer nationalist activists probably had as much impact as the official government in terms of literacy efforts.

  32. anonymous coward says

    So where did heavy serfdom come from?

    In Russia’s case, it came from Peter I and Catherine II and their germanization ideals. In Russia it’s a Western import. The idea was to implement a military-industrial command economy. Peasants were supposed to be farming food, smelting iron and digging mines. Nobles were the officer class. But somewhere in the process the thing came unhinged, Catherine wanted an aristocracy with wigs and lace like in the West, and so liberated the Russian nobles. Serfs were, of course, liberated only a hundred years later, when Russia was transitioning to capitalism for the first time. (There will be another transition to capitalism later.)

    … harder to trade or fish for food.

    If there’s two things Russia never lacked, it’s trade and fish. (Although fresh water fish as a food are crappy compared to salt water fish.)

  33. In Russia’s case, it came from Peter I and Catherine II

    It’s from the history of the alternate universe . In the universe in which we live, serfdom in Russia was introduced in the early 17th century, and legally formalized by the legislative code of 1649