Final Public Oral Exam: Dzmitry Halavach

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
September 3, 2019 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Reshaping Nations: Population Politics and Sovietization in the Polish-Soviet Borderlands, 1944-1948


Stephen Kotkin, adviser
Jan Gross
Ekaterina Pravilova
Michael David-Fox, Georgetown University


The dissertation explores how homogenous ethnoterritorial units were created in East-Central Europe in the 20th century by looking at the Polish-Soviet population exchange from 1944 through 1948. It looks at three areas of the Polish-Soviet borderlands: Lithuania, Belorussia, and Ukraine. The variation in the results of the population exchange created a natural experiment. The dissertation asks how one of the largest Soviet social engineering projects was implemented, what its consequences were, and what can it tell us about the Soviet nationality policy. Contrary to the previous historiography that viewed the population exchange as punitive national deportation, the dissertation argues that the population exchange was neither punitive nor purely national nor a deportation. Due to the focus on two important but atypical cases (Lwów/L’viv and Wilno/Vilnius), the earlier scholarship mistakenly described the whole process as a Soviet ethnic cleansing. Using the previously unexamined archival materials, the dissertation provides a revisionist history of nation-building in modern East-Central Europe. The dissertation also corrects the story of the transition of the Soviet Union from class to national categories in its governance. It complements the narrative of interethnic conflict with a story of state-building, Sovietization, and consequences of war and occupation. It examines competing, overlapping, and evolving claims of rival nationalist movements, the Soviet party-state, national communists, and other actors. The dissertation shows how the contradictory and polyvalent Soviet nation-building continued after the war and how it often was an unintended consequence of Sovietization rather than a conscious policy. The dissertation argues that the Soviet nation-building continued in the 1940s despite the ruthless suppression of the nationalist guerilla movements in the western borderlands and that national homogenization was pursued even in the areas where nationalist mobilization was low, like in the Polish-Belorussian borderlands. While there were no compelling reasons for a population exchange on this scale, Soviet ideology, the characteristics of the institutions of the party-state, and the unintended consequences of the Sovietization resulted in a massive social engineering project that uprooted almost two million people and transformed the map of East-Central Europe.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.