By Barbara Mazur
Building Bridges: Proceedings of the Fourth international conference of The Consumer Citizenship Network, Sofia, Bulgaria 2007, edited by Dag Tangen and Victoria Thoresen (Hedmark University College, 2008)
Introduction: Geographical and historical conditions have made Podlaskie Voivodeship a place of coexistence of various nations and cultures. A specific cultural landscape has been created, with unique religious multiplicity and variety of rituals. Poles, Belarusians, Tartars, Russians and Jews have been getting along here for centuries. Multinational character provided solid background for the creation of distinct systems of values and attitudes, characteristic of representatives of different denominations inhabiting the northeast of Poland. Many historiographers of the region agree on its unique character. The border of the voivodeship was delineated in 1569 (The Union of Lublin), and the name is derived from its geographical setting: “land among forests” (pod lasem) was called Podlasie. Alternatively, the name “Podlasie” comes from Ruthenian word “Podlasze”, meaning “the land of Lachs(s) – “Lach” being Ruthenian equivalent of “Pole”.
Since the very beginning of its history Podlasie has been the object of competition among the Mazovian dynasty of Piasts and Lithuenian and Mazovian dukes. In 11th century the region has often changed its national status: it fell under the authority of Kiev Ruthenia, then it became part of the Duchy of Volinia. In 13th century it was part of Lithuania, and later became part of heritage of Mazovian dukes. Stability came about in the first decades of 15th century, when Podlasie was split between Mazovia and Lithuania. In 1569 almost the whole of Podlasie (apart from Bia’owieski Forest and Knyszy(ski Forest) became the land of the Crown. The appointment of Ivan Sapieha as the first voivode took place in 1513 in Drohiczyn. Thus, enacted by King Sigismund the Old, Podlaskie Voivodeship came into existence. Up to 15th century the territory of Podlasie – frontier land among Mazovia, Prussia, Sudovia, Lithuenia and Ruthenian Duchies – was almost entirely covered with primeval forests and swamps. Rivers provided the only venues of communication between loose network of scattered insular settlements. Political instability, frequent approaches by hostile forces and the absence of roads hampered development. Political stability, which ensued the normalization of relations with Lithuania, the defeat of the Teutonic Order in the war of 1409-1411, and the end of Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War fostered the intensification of settlement and specified its course and limits. It brought about further development of municipal and rural settlement, and led to the creation of parochial network of Catholic and Orthodox churches.