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Text 3. Belarus after Vitaut: its Golden Age and Decline
Read the text. Which facts do you find most remarkable?
After Vitaut’s death the conflicts between the Orthodox and Catholic aristocracies of Lithuania started growing. After several years of palace intrigues, which were first won by the Orthodox with the Great Prince Svidryhaila, who was later replaced by Vitaut’s brother Zhyhimont (Sigizmund), in 1440, the Orthodox party elected Yahaila’s son Kazimir to be the Great Prince of Lithuania, and in 8 years he also became Polish king after his brother Wladyslaw, king of Poland, died in the war with Turkey. Kazimir tried to find a compromise between Lithuania’s independence and union with Poland, since he was very afraid of civil war in both countries. He issued some special laws (so called privileges) where he gave equal rights to the Catholic and Ortodox populations and also promised to observe the integrity of Lithuania. However, being too busy with internal affairs, he lost the Black Sea shore and the Crimea, which became occupied by the Turks.
Meanwhile, the Moscow prince Ivan III united the surrounding lands and proclaimed himself the Tsar and the head of all Orthodox people in Europe after marrying the daughter of the last Byzantine emperor. Therefore all Orthodox lands including Lithuania, according to him, should be joined to Moscow. Still being under the Tatar yoke, Ivan III started the campaign against the Tatars. The Tatars Khan Akhmat asked Kazimir for help, but the Great Prince was too busy fighting with the Turks and with internal troubles, and he refused. In 1480 Ivan III liberated Moscow from Tatars and in 1499 he started the war with Lithuania. The Great Prince Alexander who replaced his brother Kazimir after his death in 1492 (at that time Columbus approached the new world!) was first defeated and Smolensk was occupied, but in 1501 Alexander drove the Muscovites away to Moscow after which the truce started. It lasted until 1509 when Moscow occupied Pskov and entered Belarus. In the battle near Orsha, the Belarusian troops under the command of getman (general) Kanstantin Astrozhsky managed to defeat the huge Moscow army and stop the war for a short period. The war was renewed in 1516, 1518, 1519, 1534, 1535, 1536, 1537, 1542, and 1549; and in actuality, the struggle for Belarus was continuous. It was extremely hard for the Belarusian people; the cities of Polatsk, Vitebsk, Homel, Amstsislawye, Orsha suffered most of all. It can be said with confidence that around these cities there’s not a single inch of land that has not been washed by blood. Thousands of graves still remind us of this war with Moscow. In 1558 the Moscow tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) assaulted the Livonian Order of crusaders, the Lithuanian neighbors. The Great Prince Zhyhimont Augoust decided to help the crusaders on the condition of joining it to Lithuania. The 20-year Livonian war started. At first Ivan’s army of 280,000 warriors occupied eastern Belarus devastating it all through; it took Polatsk in 1563. But in 1564 general Mikalai Radzivill defeated the Moscow army; and other Lithuanian generals also won victories in 1568. Ivan the Terrible had to sign the truce, according to which, however, Polatsk and eastern Livonia remained under Moscow’s power.
In 1569 Poles raised the recurrent question about the unification of Poland and Lithuania. They wished a union in which Poland would dominate, but Belarusian and the Zhmudz aristocracy refused. But Zhyhimont August treated the proposition positively because of wars with Moscow, Swedes who attacked Livonia, and Crimean Tatars who renewed their raids in southern Ukraine. Though Lithuanian magnates entreated Zhyhimont August for not betraying the country’s independence, he ignored them and 1569 in Lublin, Poland, the state union was signed. According to it the two states united into one – Rech Paspalitaya with joint economies, military, and the king in Krakow. Ten times before the Poles had tried to join Lithuania completely to Poland and with the eleventh attempt, they finally succeeded; the Great Lithuanian Principality became extinct. However, after victory in the Livonian war, the Belarusians managed to create the local government for Lithuania with Belarusian as the state language and with a separate army and budget. The king of Rech Paspalitaya Stephan Batory, who replaced Zhygimont August after his death in 1576, managed to drive the Muscovites away from Polatsk and Livonia, thus winning the Livonian war. Unfortunately, during the battle for Polatsk, many architectural and written monuments were destroyed by fire.
In spite of the wars and troubles, the 14th through 16th centuries are considered to be the “Golden Age” in Belarusian culture. Lithuania was one of the main cultural centers in Eastern Europe. Belarusian artists, painters, and architects were in demand all over Europe; written Belarusian was a very highly developed language. At the beginning of the 16th century, with the spread of book-printing, the first books were printed in the Belarusian language. The first church books in Belarusian started appearing in 1483 in Krakow, and in 1517 the first Belarusian Bible was translated and printed in Prague by Dr. Francysk Skaryna from Polatsk (1492-1550); thus Belarusian became the second Slavic language after Czech in which the Bible was printed. Only years after that was book-printing started in Ukrainian, Polish, Zhmudzin, Latvian, and Russian. Francysk Skaryna worked in Prague till 1520 and then he returned to Vilnia, where Belarusian typography had already been founded. He translated from Latin other religious texts supplying them with his forewords and afterwords. The book-printing activity of Skaryna was a very important factor in enlightening and educating the Belarusian people; that is why he is considered the biggest contributor to the Belarusian culture of the Renaissance. The year of his 500th anniversary, 1992, was proclaimed by UNESCO the year of Skaryna. After him education and book-printing rapidly spread all over Belarus; schools and typographies were opened in many towns and many books were printed there by Skaryna’s successors Vasil Tiapinski, Symon Budny, Symon Polatski and others. Many Belarusian cultural achievements were adopted by other East European countries; for example, many church books in Russian and Ukrainian were later translated from Belarusian; the first Moscow code of laws of 1649 copied many laws of Lithuania issued in Belarusian more than a century before. At that time most of the Belarusian chronicles which are known now were written. The Belarusian scientist Kazimir Semianovich was one of the first who studied rocket theory; another scientist, Gallash Kapievich from Vitebsk invented a simplified variant of the Cyrillic alphabet which was more suitable for printing and later started being used by all Cyrillic-writing peoples. Lots of young aristocratic Belarusian people at that time visited Western Europe where they studied at universities and lived in the spirit of the Renaissance. One of them, the poet Mikola Husouski, left a wonderful monument of Belarusian literature written in Latin while he lived in Italy – “Song about the Aurochs.” This youth was first to bring the Reformation from Western Europe to Belarus.
After Vitaut’s death the obscured contradictions between the Orthodox and Catholic population of Lithuania started growing, mostly due to the expanded influence of Poland and Russia since both Catholic and Orthodox churches in Belarus depended on religious centers outside Belarus – the Vatican and Warsaw, and Moscow. Even Navahradak eparchy after Vitaut’s death appeared under the Moscow Patriarchies influence. That’s why many educated people of Belarus believed that the Protestant church might serve as a shield for Belarusian independence; special activity in promoting the Reformation in Belarus was performed by prince Micalai Radzivill, the Black. He founded 163 Calvinist (Presbyterian) parishes, schools, and gymnasiums in Belarus, wishing to turn the whole country to Calvinism. But soon after that Polish Jesuits expanded their activities in the country aiming at strengthening Polish influence. The Jesuits worked it out in all branches of culture founding schools, universities, and monasteries. The revolution of the Reformation moved all people’s thoughts, customs, and ideals; new support was needed, and the Jesuits turned out to be stronger in this battle for human minds. They managed to win the Protestant moods in Belarus and turned to Catholicism a big part of population. In their urge to establish control over the Orthodox population, they suggested a church union which would unite both churches and be headed by the Roman Pope. Belarusian patriots saw the possibility of creating a church independent from Poland and Moscow, and they agreed to the union, which was signed in Brest in 1595. Thus the Uniate, or Greek Catholic Church, was founded. Unfortunately, the Uniate church was ruled by the Jesuits who tried to eliminate all Orthodox traditions in the new church. This caused a wide wave of people’s protests and killed the idea of Belarusian independence for centuries, due to the failure of Greek Catholicism to become the Belarusian independent religion. The history of Belarus turned out to be the history of popular protests against its oppressors.
At the beginning of the 17th century the internal fights for power in Moscow started again; the so-called False Demetrius started a revolt against the tsar Boris Godunov, and Belarusians used these conflicts for rejoining the territories occupied by Moscow. Thus, in 1609 Zhyhimont August liberated Smolensk and entered Moscow. The truce was signed only in 1618, according to which Smolensk joined Rech Paspalitaya. Meanwhile, the oppressed Orthodox people started escaping from Belarus to the southern Ukraine, where since old times there lived Cossacks – free farmers who did not recognize any power over themselves. They sometimes attacked the neighboring Turkish villages causing indignation of the Turks who started threatening Rech Paspalitaya with war. In response, the Polish authorities limited many rights of the Cossacks and forced them to accept the Uniate church by closing Orthodox churches or renting them to the Jews.
The Cossacks started revolts against the Poles and against Polish and Catholic influence. The biggest revolt occurred in 1648 under the command of Bohdan Khmelnitski. He managed to gather a huge army of Cossacks – about half a million people – which defeated the Polish troops in several battles. These victories were heartily supported by most of the Belarusian farmers; some of them started their own revolts but were defeated by getman Radzivill. The Cossack war lasted till 1654 until Khmelnitski had to ask Moscow for help. Moscow established its control over most of the Ukraine and together with the Cossacks, the Muscovites occupied the whole of Belarus as well as its capital Vilnia. At this same time, the Swedes renewed their war against Poland and quickly occupied it and started negotiations with Moscow about the division of conquered territories. But the Muscovites didn’t trust the Swedes; they believed the Poles, who had promised to give them all of the Belarusian and Ukrainian lands. Moscow stopped its war against Rech Paspalitaya after which the Polish troops defeated the Swedes, and the Lithuanian army managed to defeat the Muscovites and drive them away from most of the Belarusian lands. This victory made some of the Belarusian magnates think about the restoration of independence of the Great Lithuanian Principality, but their leader, Yanush Radzivill, who had tried to create a union between Lithuania and Sweden in 1655, perished in the war with the Poles. Another attempt was undertaken by the Belarusian magnate Paul Sapega, but it failed, too. In order to kill the spirit of resistance, in 1697, the Poles forbade the use of the Belarusian language in the courts and other official cases, and in 1699 they forbade the election of Orthodox citizens in local governments. These acts were a knife to the back of the Belarusians – they blocked the development of Belarusian culture and deprived Belarusians of many rights.
In 1697 the throne of Rech Paspalitaya was occupied by August II, the Saxon, German by origin. He wanted to subordinate Livonia, which was under the Swedes; and jointly with Denmark and Moscow he started the war against Sweden in 1700, the so-called Northern war. Most of the military events took place on Belarusian territory, resulting in terrible devastation. Each side, in order to destroy possible reserves and benefits for the enemy, systematically burned Belarusian towns and villages. Finally the war was won in 1721 by the tsar Peter I who proclaimed himself the Russian emperor, after which Russia became the strongest power in Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, the religious conflicts reached their zenith in Rech Paspalitaya. In 1768 the Orthodox and Protestant authorities founded a confederation, in response to which the Catholics founded their own confederation and started a war against the first one. Orthodox leaders turned to Russia for help and received it since Russia was eager to support any internal conflicts in Rech Paspalitaya. The force of Russia on the state grew year after year, and in 1773 Russian troops again appeared in Rech Paspalitaya as if to defend the Orthodox belief. After the occupation, the first division of Rech Paspalitaya occurred; and according to its conditions, Belarusian territories up to the Dnieper were joined to Russia. As a result of the continuation of internal discords in Rech Paspalitaya, Russian troops were again involved in 1793, and this resulted in a second division in which the rest of Belarus as well as northern Ukraine appeared under Russian power. After that, revolt against the Russians took place in Poland. It was led by Tadevush Kasciushka (Cosciusco), Belarusian by origin, who later took part in the War for Independence in America. But this revolt was suppressed and the third division of Rech Paspalitaya occurred, by which Poland also became Russian territory; Rech Paspalitaya together with Lithuania disappeared as a state. The will of the Russian tsars, beginning at the time of Vasily, finally came true, and Belarus was an endless battlefield for nearly 200 years as a result.
Ex. 1. Consult the text and find the English equivalents of the following.
Ex. 2.Match words or phrase from A with those from B.
Ex. 3. Find sentences or phrases in the text that are close or equivalent in meaning to the following..
1. Сохранить целостность Литвы.
2. Будучи под татарским игом.
3. Война была чрезвычайно трудной для белорусского народа.
4. Умоляли не предавать независимость Литвы.
5. «Золотой век» в белорусской культуре.
6. 1992 год был объявлен ЮНЕСКО годом Франциска Скорины.
7. Многие достижения белорусской культуры были позаимствованы другими восточноевропейскими странами.
8. Упрощенный вариант кириллицы.
9. «Песня о зубре» Гусовского.
10. Образованные люди полагали, что протестантская церковь может служить щитом для белорусской независимости.
11. Иезуиты оказались сильнее в борьбе за человеческие умы.
12. Это вызвало волну протеста.
13. Начали переговоры о разделе завоеванных территорий.
14. Запретили использовать белорусский язык
15. Лишили белорусов многих прав.
Ex. 1.Split the text into parts and think of appropriate titles for each one.
Ex. 2. What do these numbers in the text refer to?
1440, 1480, 1492, 1483, 1501, 1516, 1517, 1549, 1563, 1564, 1568, 1569, 1609, 1618, 1648, 1654,1697, 1721, 1773, 1793, 1992, 280.000.
Ex. 3. Arrange the part in the chronological order.
1. The Livonian war started.
2. The state union was signed in Lublin.
3. Ivan the Terrible signed the truce, according to which, however, Polatsk and eastern Livonia remained under Moscow’s power.
4. The Orthodox party elected Yahaila’s son Kazimir to be the Great Prince of Lithuania.
5. Alexander drove the Muscovites away to Moscow.
6. Ivan III started the war with Lithuania.
7. In the battle near Orsha the Belarusian troops under the command of Kanstantin Astrozhsky managed to defeat the huge Moscow Army.
8. Ivan III liberated Moscow from Tatars.
Ex. 4. Answer the questions.
1. Why did the contradictions between the Orthodox and Catholic aristocracies start growing after Vitaut’s death?
2. Did the Moscow prince Ivan III manage to join Lithuania to Moscow?
3. Why is the battle near Orsha considered to be the greatest?
4. The struggle for Belarus in the 16th century was continuous, wasn’t it?
5. How long did the Livonian war last?
6. Why did Zhyhimont August sign the state union in Lublin?
7. What were the consequences of the State union?
8. Why are the 14th through 16th centuries considered to be “the Golden Age” in Belarusian culture?
9. What union was signed in Brest in 1595?
10. Why did Greek Catholicism (Uniate) fail?
11. Did the Belarusians farmers support the Cossaks revolt?
12. Were any attempts to restore independence of the Great Principality of Lithuania undertaken?
13. Where did most of the military events of the Northern war take place?
14. Why did Russian troops appear in Rech Paspalitaya in 1773?
15. Why did the first division of Rech Paspalitaya take place?
16. When did the second division of Rech Paspalitaya take place?
17. What were the results of the third division of Rech Paspalitaya?
Ex. 1. What do you think?
Many educated people of Belarus believed that the Protestant church might serve as a shield for Belarusian independence. Are you of the same opinion?
Ex. 2.Describe the greatest event of the 15th century on the territory of Belarus.
Ex. 3.Write an essay on the topic “The 14th through 16th centuries are “the Golden Age” in Belarusian culture”.
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