Continuing the excerpts from Kate Brown (see this post):
At the Commission for National Minority Affairs they wrote memos back and forth, smiling over the simplicity of villagers who could not identify their nationality and were ignorant of their own language. But who was ignorant of what? The peasants too thought the “bureaucrats” were ridiculous, ineffectual, and ignorant of “our village ways.” One peasant complained, “They send out an inspector who speaks in a boss’s tone of voice. He drives up, pulls out his notebook. […] We still don’t know what he wanted, he didn’t give us any advice.” It was not inborn ignorance on the peasant side or callousness on the side of the bureaucrats that drove this conflict, but rather a colliding discourse over identity. When asked who they were, villagers answered in a way that incorporated the complexities of the hybrid culture in which they lived. For them, identities were local, rooted in the soil of a particular river bed, forest, or valley. Identity represented a dynamic relationship that depended on whom one was identifying oneself against, whether it was landowners, workers, Jews, Russians, Germans, or educated urbanites. [Rest of paragraph, beginning “When asked who they were…,” quoted in previous post.]
In other words, to call the villagers in the borderlands Ukrainian or Polish is beside the point. They were, as they often described themselves, simply “local.” They made up a continuum of cultures that stood literally and figuratively on the border between Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, in a place where mass media had not yet standardized vernaculars or made boilerplates of ritual and tradition. The communists who came to rule the large tracts of land sought to systematize vernacular identities and languages, fix them in space, translate that space onto a map, and with that map gaze out from their underheated offices in Kharkov or Moscow and see all of the kingdom laid out before them, a modern crystal ball.
…Many villagers who voted for Polish schools and village councils said they wanted to learn Polish because it was the language of the Catholic Church. In fact, before Soviet power was established in the kresy, locals had organized their own underground Polish schools in order to teach catechism to their own children. The Polish language also signified culture and status; learning Polish was a way for some to lift themselves above the mass of (Ukrainian-speaking) peasants in a language-driven form of social mobility.
In short, there was no consensus on who was who, or even what nationality meant in the rural borderlands. In the end, what greatly helped to make the Marchlevsk Region decisively Polish was Jan Saulevich’s insistence on it. He and a few assistants in his office, using the tools of modern civilization, could see what no one else could see — they could pass their eyes over pine forests and low green fields and see a nation-filled landscape, bodies of Polish, German, Jewish, and Czech nationality. Saulevich’s primary task in setting up the national regions in Ukraine meant deploying what has become one of the most universally powerful tools of modern governance: the census. He needed a head count so that his office could construct another innovative tool of modern rule — a demographic map. With a map they could draw borders and make what was illusionary (or rather, visible only to the initiated) plain for all to see — concrete ethnic territories encircling tangible bodies, the smallest components of the newly forming Soviet nations.
Unfortunately, although numbers never lie, the people who wield them sometimes do. The 1922 tally of the countryside found a mere 90,000 Poles in all of Ukraine. The Polish Bureau accused Ukrainian local leaders of nationalism, skewing the results in favor of Ukrainians, and asked for a recount. Meanwhile, leaders on the Ukrainian side charged that the Polish Bureau was trying to Polonize Ukrainian villagers by establishing Polish schools and village councils[…]
The 1925 Ukrainian NKVD ruling gave the Polish cause a green light; Catholics who spoke Ukrainian were essentially seen as Poles, and this decision greatly influenced census results. From 90,300 poles in Ukraine in 1923, the number rose to 369,612 in 1926. […] The Polish Bureau felt it had won a victory[…] The job left for Saulevich’s office was to Polonize the remaining 78 percent of the Catholic population who were not “definitely Poles” but listed so on the census.” With this task before them, officials at the Commission for National Minority Affairs monitored the growth of Polish-language schools, libraries, and newspapers and chided local mayors and teachers when they continued to speak Ukrainian although they were counted as Polish.
His victory didn’t do Saulevich any good in the end: “In 1934, Saulevich was purged from the party and demoted. In 1935, he was arrested and charged with Polonizing the western borderlands of Ukraine, of falsifying statistics to make it look as if Ukrainians were really Poles so as to create a bulwark of Polishdom to be used as a springboard for Poland to attack the Soviet Union.” He was shot, like so many others, in 1937.