The Partitions of Poland
Belorussia remained a part of Poland until Russia, Prussia, and Austria carried out the three partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795. After the last partition, the entire territory of Belorussia found itself part of the Russian Empire, with the exception of a small piece of land in the west, which was held by Prussia. Orthodox Russia tolerated the Uniate Church to a certain degree, but in 1839, when three-quarters of all Belorussians were Uniates, Tsar Nicholas I (with the support of the Russian Orthodox Church) abolished the Uniate Church and forced the Uniates to reconvert to Orthodoxy. He also banned the use of the name "Belorussia" and replaced it with the name "Northwest Territory" (Severo-zapadnyy kray, in Russian). Overall, the state pursued a policy of Russification.
At the time serfdom was abolished in the Russian Empire in 1861, Belorussia was essentially a nation of peasants and landlords. Although they had their freedom, the peasants had little else: they remained poor and largely landless. The imposition of the Russian language, the Orthodox religion, heavy taxes, and military service lasting twenty-five years made the past under Polish rule seem better than the present under the tsars.
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