(PL) Podlasie – understanding the region


Podlaskie Voivodeship covers an area of 20 187 km2. It is divided into seventeen counties: Białystok County, Białystok City County, Sokółka County, Bielsk Podlaski County, Hajnówka County, Kolno County, Łomża County, Łomża City County, Siemiatycze County, Wysokie Mazowieckie County, Zambrów County, Augustów County, Grajewo County, Mońki County, Sejny County, Suwałki County, and Suwałki City County.

In 2010, the population of Podlaskie Voivodeship was 1 181 047, with the density of 59/m2. 60.4% of the Podlasie population are urban residents.

A statistical resident of Podlaskie Voivodeship is 38.7 years old. 29.8% of the population are people younger than 25, 14.8% – older than 65. However, the birth rate is very low: 0.1 per 1000 residents, which is significantly less compared with the figure for Poland (0.9 per 1000 residents).

Age structure

8% of the Podlasie residents have a higher education degree. 13.2% of the voivodeship residents are unemployed. The average resident of Podlaskie Voivodeship has gross monthly earnings of 2 854.02 PLN (≈ €713). 32% of the employed work in the fields of forestry, agriculture, hunting and fishing, but only 2.6% of them are hired in finance, insurance, market service and real estate.

Podlaskie Voivodeship borders with Belarus (around 260 km), Luthuania (around 100 km), Lublin Voivodeship, Masovian Voivodeship, and Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship.

Podlasie has a variety of faith groups: Catholics, Protestants, Greek Catholics, Muslims, and Old Believers. Apart from Poles, the area is inhabited by Belarusians, Lithuanians, Tatars, Russians, Ukrainians, and Romani. In the past, Jews were another ethnic group living in the region.

National minorities in Podlasie

Jews were a large group residing in Podlasie between the 18th and the 19th c.  In Tykocin, 70% of the residents were Jewish, in Białystok 45%, in Międzyrzecze Podlaskie 81%, and in Sarnaki 80%. During the Second World War, nearly three million Jews were killed in the Holocaust in Poland. Jews from Podlasie perished of illnesses, hunger, and through executions in the overpopulated ghettos. In 1942, those who survived dramatic conditions in the ghettos were nevertheless exterminated. First deported to Nazi concentration camps in Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau, they died in mass killings. Today, one can find only single persons of Jewish origin in Podlasie. This once numerous population left behind cemeteries, synagogues and few memorials.

Old Believers are Orthodox dissenters who separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church because of the reforms in the mid-17th c. Separatists who did not accept formal changes of religious practices were oppressed and had to defect from Russia. As a result, Old Believers, faithful to the old orthodox rite, appeared in the Podlasie area. Today, they live in few close-knit communities, with religion as their identification factor, and rather not the national identity, which is the secondary issue. Nowadays, there are about 500 persons of this faith in Podlasie.



Tatars are an ethnic minority whose descendants are defectors from the Golden Horde and Crimea. In Podlasie, there are about 300 Tatars living, among other places, in indigenous Tatar colonies in the Białystok area. Although Polish Tatars no longer speak their mother tongue, they have retained their Muslim faith. The Muslim Religious Organisation plays an important role in the life of the Tatar minority.

In the 2002 national census, 447 Polish citizens declared themselves as Tatars, including 319 persons in Podlaskie Voivodeship (0.03% of the voivodeship residents).


Belarusians are the largest national minority in Poland, traditionally being the indigenous population of the southeastern part of Podlasie. They have their own educational system as well as numerous cultural and religious centres. It is typical of this region to use the words ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Belarusian’ as synonyms. Also, the borderlands residents declaring themselves as ‘local’ show how problematic the identity question is in this area.

In 2002, 46 041 people (3.8% of Podlaskie Voivodeship) declared their nationality as Belarusian. In twelve Podlasie counties, the representatives of the Belarusian minority constitute more than 20% of their residents, including four counties where the percentage is over 50%.


Lithuanians are a national minority traditionally inhabiting the north part of Podlaskie Voivodeship, with the population around 5000 people. The substantial majority of them are Roman Catholics. As the only minority in Poland, Lithuanians have chosen to use the Lithuanian as the teaching language in nearly 20 educational centres in Poland. Every Lithuanian school fosters the Lithuanian culture: children learn dancing as well as participate in singing and drama groups. Social Lithuanian organisations are also active, for instance Association of Lithuanians in Poland and the Lithuanian Cultural Centre, to name but a few.

In the 2002 national census, 5 097 people (0.4%) from Podlaskie Voivodeship declared their nationality as Lithuanian. The largest population of the Lithuanian minority lives in Sejny County, where 21.20% of the Polish citizens declared their nationality as Lithuanian during the census.




This border area was under the ethnic influence of Polish, Russian and Lithuanian cultures. In the XIV century the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was an important occurrence in region. The borderland between Lithuania and Mazovia was changed for several times – this situation lasted until the XV century, when it was finally established.

The establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1385 and overcoming the power of the Teutonic Order in 1410 led to peace and stabilization in the entire borderland. This also resulted in settlement progress and the economic revival of the region.

In 1513 region was divided, that resulted in the formation of Podlaskie Voivodeship.

Throughout the XVI century the progressive colonization of Lithuanian forests was observed. During that time, about 40% of all town foundings took place in the voivodeship. The PolishLithuanian partnership became more permanent.

The Cossack Uprising (1648-1654), then the war with Russia (1654-1667) and finally the Swedish invasion (1655) caused real disasters. As the result of continuous military actions and the outbreak of plagues, the population of the voivodeship significantly decreased.

At the end of the XVII century and during the next century many new towns were founded by owners of large magnate fortunes and orders. The weak economic base of most of them, except Bialystok – the present capital of Podlaskie Voivodeship – often determined their further development. The city of Bialystok, with its magnificent Branicki Palace, became an important cultural centre.

The second half of the XVIII century brought with it slow social and economic growth to the Republic of Poland. Podlasie was involved in this development and this areas remained Polish territory until 1795. After the Third Partition of Poland and after forfeiting its independence, nearly the entire area of Podlaskie Voivodeship became part of Prussian territory. It joined a newly established, by the invader, administrative unit: New Eastern Prussia.

In 1815, after the collapse of Napoleon, by virtue of the Vienna Congress decisions, the Polish Kingdom was established. The authority of this administrative unit was allocated to Suwalki city. This historical period left us with a splendid monument of polish technical but at that time the Bialystok district, a peripheral part of Russia, was developing much slower. After suppressing the November Uprising, in 1832 Tsar authorities established a tariff boundary between the Polish Kingdom and Russian Empire. In order to avoid high tariffs, some Polish manufacturers moved their businesses from the Kingdom to the district area of Bialystok, so the process of industrialization on these lands was begun.

The citizens of Podlaskie Voivodeship took active part in the January Uprising of 1863. This uprising was different from the previous one because insurgents concentrated on partisan actions. As opposed to the situation in other voivodeships, lower nobility and peasants widely took part in the combats of our voivodeship. Insurgent actions were mainly concentrated in the woods of the Augustowska Forest, Bialowieska Forest and Czerwony Woods by the Lyk and Biebrza Rivers. On the 6-7 of February, in the area of Siemiatycze, one of the largest battles of the January Uprising took place. The uprising was suppressed, with the result of Tsar victimizations against the polish people. In 1866, the areas of present Podlaskie Voivodeship, which earlier constituted part of the Polish Kingdom, were divided into two guberniyas: Lomzynska and Suwalska.

The so-called russification policy was a great threat to the state of native Polish culture. Within the framework of this policy uniate church, monasteries with schools were closed. It became difficult to sustain traditional culture patterns. During the 80s of the XIX century a portion of the russificated jewish population, called “litwiaki”, arrived to Bialystok. This complicated the national-cultural relations even more, but at the same time Bialystok became the most important centre of Jewish cultural life next to Wilno. Before World War I, in the western part of the voivodeship, popular culture began reviving.

As a result of World War I, the development of industry and fall of many urban districts took place. In 1915, while withdrawing from these areas, the Russians looted factories, stealing personal property and destroying the buildings. The most destruction occurred alongside the Narew River, where the front line of the battle lasted for the longest period of time. Some places were totally destroyed, and some towns were up to 70% ruined (e.g. Nowogrod, Sniadowo, Jedwabne). Population in the area of the present voivodeship, was reduced by about 40%, as the result of war and the compulsory evacuation of citizens.

The rise of the Polish state in 1918 greatly changed the geographical position of present Podlaskie Voivodeship. However, the liberation of this voivodeship proceeded in a differently compared to the rest of Poland. In November 1918, only the west part of Podlaskie attained Voivodeship independence. The remaining parts were gradually, as the German Army withdrew from the east, retrieved by the Polish Army. This process ended in the summer of 1919.

By virtue of a seym act, on August 2 Bialostockie Voivodeship was established. The period of the II Republic of Poland was characterized by progressive reconstruction and economic development of the voivodeship. Also in the cultural field destruction caused by war as well as the invader policy were eliminated. Theaters were introduced, debates were organized and publishing activity was revived in this voivodeship.

World War II is the most tragic period in the history of this region. On September 1 1939 Germans attacked Poland. In Podlasie the defense was led by the Independent Operation Group “Narew”. The toughest battles were fought near Wizna, Nowogard and Lomza., Germans took over the capital of the voivodeship – Bialystok.

Russian powerful regime of NKWD – an everlasting process of arrests and sentencing people to Siberia. On the June 22, 1941 Germany attacked the USRR. After a couple of days, the Russian Army was displaced from the area of the present voivodeship by the Germans.

After the end of the war Bialystok was also supposed to join Eastern Prussia and undergo germanization. The years between 1941 – 1944 were characterized by ruthless economic exploitation, terror among civilians and the complete extermination of Jewish people.

Occupation caused great loss among people connected with culture. Many of them were murdered and others were forced to leave the country for several years.

On July 1944 Bialystok was occupied by the Russian Army and by the end of October, the German Army left our region. Only lands to the north of Narwia were left under German occupation, until the January offensive in 1945.

After World War II, eastern lands, lying outside the newly established eastern border, did not return to bialostockie voivodeship.

The voivodeship existed in this configuration until the administrative reform in 1975, when the borders of the voivodeship were moved once again. As a result of this division three new voivodeships were created: Bialostockie, Suwalskie and Lomzynskie.

With reference to the historical name of the region Podlaskie Voivodeship was created. The present voivodeship consists of the following previously existing voivodeships: Bialostockie, almost all of Lomzynskie and some parts of Suwalskie.

Source: http://www.wrotapodlasia.pl/en/region/history/



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