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In the Middle Ages, "Lithuania" ruled over not only the modern Lithuania, but also modern Belarus and large parts of the Ukraine. The Ukrainiains seemed to accept Lithuanian rule for over two centuries without problems.

But in the 17th century, Poland (Lithuania's partner in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) started taking over Ukrainian affairs. This led to the revolt of the Cossacks and other Ukrainians Bogdan Kmelnytsky mid-century.

My understanding is that that Poles were far less benevolent to the Ukrainians than the Lithuanians. The questions are, in what ways, and why? That is, why did Polish nobles "stir the pot" when Lithuanian rulers had "pacified" the region for over two centuries? (For instance, the Kmelnytsky article refers to a "Vilius (Lithuanina) panagyric" praising him.)

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Do you have any sources on the claim that Poland started taking over Ukrainian affairs. I'm not really sure what that means. :-) –  Lennart Regebro Nov 9 '13 at 6:16
@LennartRegebro: Here is such as source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine. Second paragraph, under "Foreign Domination": "By 1569, the Union of Lublin formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and a significant part of Ukrainian territory was transferred from Duchy of Lithuania to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, thus becoming Polish territory de jure." –  Tom Au Nov 10 '13 at 14:23

2 Answers 2

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First of all the sentence:

"Ukrainiains seemed to accept Lithuanian rule for over two centuries"

is an anachronism. There was no "Ukrainians" in the period you are talking about. Neither any "Belorussians" existed. What later became "Ukrainians" and "Belorussians" were descendants of that part of the population which was Orthodox by religion.

After the conquest of Rus principatities by the Mongols, this orthodox part of the population found itself partially in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and partially in the Kingdom of Poland.

I recall that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, until it united with Poland in 1385 was not a christian state. This was the last pagan state in Europe. In the sense that the Grand Duke himself and a large portion of the population were pagans. They lived in the same state with Orthodox population, which probably made a majority, but this is not exactly known.

The kingdom of Poland was officially Catholic, but also had a large part of the Orthodox population. The union between Poland and the Grand Duchy begins in 1385 as a dynastic union. The Grand Duke baptized, married the Polish queen, their realms were loosely united, and strong efforts were made to convert the whole population to Catholicism. As one can expect, they succeeded with the pagan part of the population more than with the Orthodox part. With years the union became closer and closer, until at some point it was almost complete and the new state was called Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569).

The state had a high degree of religious toleration (more than anywhere in Europe at that time, I suppose). Most of the ruling elite was Catholic, but there was a large Orthodox population, as well as Muslim, Jewish etc. Of course there were all sorts of frictions between confessions and people did not enjoy "equal rights" in the modern sense, but interests of minorities were protected by law. We can find several Orthodox among the highest state officials, military commanders, nobility and magnates ("oligarchs"). However it is true that the majority of nobility (zchlachta) was Catholic, and it was profitable for a career to convert to Catholicism.

The frictions apparently increased at the time of reformation. Gradually the relations between Catholics and Orthodox deteriorated, and this led to a disastrous civil war. Religion was not the only reason of this civil war. Provocation from Moscow also played a role. Moscow Princes suddenly declared themselves "Sovereign of all Russias", At the time when most of the "Russias" was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Poles never recognized this title.

There was also an uprising of the Orthodox peasantry against landowners (magnates), Cossacs fighting for their privileges, etc., that is a kind of "class struggle".

Now returning to your original question. Did Orthodox people feel better in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania than in Poland? I don't know any hard evidence for this. But this is possible.

In general, pagans are more tolerant to other religions than Christians. (Example: Roman empire. While it was pagan it was generally tolerant (of course there were frictions, like everywhere else. But in principle it was tolerant. There was no religious wars at least). After it became Christian, religious wars started, and eventually all other religions were eliminated.

One can conjecture that the same eventually happened in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. But this is only a conjecture, I do not know any hard evidence. And the very fact that "Ukrainians accepted Lithuanian rule" as opposite to "Polish rule" has to be proved.

By the way, in XVI century, the most used official language in the Lithuanian part of the state was a kind of old Russian (using Cyrillic). After the unification, it was gradually loosing competition to Polish and German. The reason must be clear.

One more remark. The Civil war led eventually to what Russian historians call "Re-unification of Russia and Ukraine". This period (immediately after "re-unification" is called in Ukrainian history Ruin (collapse, destruction). The result was division of Ukraine into two approximately equal parts, one returned to Poland, another stayed with Russia. Only after the violent partition of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwelath in the end of XVIII century, both parts were united within the Russian empire. Thus I suspect that not all Ukrainians were so unhappy under the Polish rule.

Sources. Most of the sources I used are in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, so I do not cite them. A good book in English is God's Playground by Norman Davies. The "civil war" that I mentioned is officially called "Khmelnicki uprising". When reading the books and other sources, please take into account that these questions are still hotly debated by nationalist historians and the views of many authors are strongly biased. Especially this applies to Russian and Ukrainian authors.

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This answer would be improved by sources. Especially about the civil war between Catholic and Orthodox. I suspect the time line here is somewhat mixed up. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 4 '14 at 5:19
I have "God's playground", and don't fancy reading through two massive volumes to verify what you say. Could you give pages or chapters for your various claims at least? –  Lennart Regebro Jan 4 '14 at 6:13
I added references on Wikipedia articles to most of my statements. They contain further references. Concerning God's playground, I do not have it with me. Sometimes I will go to the library, check it out and add the chapter numbers. But I suppose you know how to use the index and the table of contents of a book to quickly find all needed information. –  Alex Jan 4 '14 at 6:29
@LennartRegebro it's often difficult to give exact pages (or even chapters) for the English version of the book if you own it in another language edition. –  Darek Wędrychowski Jul 25 '14 at 14:33

Well, let me point you in the following direction: one of the possible reasons was the fact, that Lithuanians were of the same faith with Ukrainians (who were not called this way at those times for sure), they were both orthodox people (as "Lithuanians" were the ancestors of the today's Belarus' nation).

The languages were also very close to each other (way more close than to polish or e.g. russian). When Polish Kingdom took the leading role in Commonwealth, they have started a politics aiming to convert population and elites of Lithuania and Ukraine into Catholicism, and also the significant expansion of polish language was taking place.

PS: please excuse my poor English

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The Lithuanian leadership were pagans up until the end of the 14th century when they became Roman Catholic. That they ruled over the area that today is Belarus doesn't really make Lithuanians the ancestor of todays nation. The people living in Belarus at the time were Ruthenians, the "ancestors" of Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianization_of_Lithuania –  Lennart Regebro Nov 8 '13 at 22:17
That's funny. The state language of Duchy was never baltic, and had nothing to do with the language of the so-called "Lithuanians" of nowadays, samogitians and aukstaitians. Look at the names of Lithuanian armies members, look at the names of Grand Hetman's and so on and so forth. Read the state documents of those times - nothing baltic. Only slavic names, slavic language. –  Alex Parakhnevich Nov 9 '13 at 7:43
@AlexParakhnevich Wouldn't the language used in state documents of the time say more about who wrote them than who was written about? –  SevenSidedDie Nov 9 '13 at 7:56
The concept of "state language" is a modern concept that did not exist at this time. I don't see how this is relevant. You are claiming that there is a difference in religion between the Lithuanians and the Polish. This is incorrect. They were both generally Roman-Catholic, while the Ruthenians were generally Orthodox. Hence your claim that the Polish was less popular because of religion is incorrect. –  Lennart Regebro Nov 9 '13 at 8:08
Only a part of the Duchy's schlachta was catholic those times, and most of the common people was orthodox or uniatic. I have to go now, but tomorrow I will provide an appropriate arguements and links for this discussion to be a bit more reasonable than it's now. Okay? See you later. –  Alex Parakhnevich Nov 9 '13 at 9:06

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