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The Curzon Line was a demarcation line between the Second Polish Republicmarker and Bolshevik Russia, first proposed on December 8, 1919 at the Allied Supreme Council declaration. The line was authored by Britishmarker Foreign Secretary, George Curzon, 1st Earl Curzon of Kedleston. In the wake of World War I and the Russian Civil War, the two countries disputed their borders, and the Polish-Soviet War erupted. In July 1920, Curzon asked the Soviet government to accept it as a possible armistice line. Curzon's plan was initially not accepted by the Soviets, as the military situation was at that time in their favour, and later was not accepted by the Poles when the military situation had shifted to their favour. As such, the line did not play any role in establishing the Polish-Soviet border in 1921. Instead, the final Peace of Riga (or Treaty of Riga) provided Poland with almost 135,000 km² (52,000 sq mi) of land that was, on average, about 200 km east of the Curzon line. A close approximation of the Curzon line is the current border between the countries of Belarusmarker, Ukrainemarker and Polandmarker.

With minor variations, the Curzon line lay approximately along the border which was established between the Prussian Kingdommarker and the Russian Empiremarker in 1797, after the third partition of Poland, which was the last border recognised by the United Kingdommarker. The line separating the Germanmarker and Soviet zones of occupation following the defeat of Poland in 1939 followed the Curzon Line in places, while diverging from it around Białystokmarker in the north and in the southern region of Galicia. While there is a widespread perception by historians that the line was based on the ethnic composition of the area,this viewpoint has been disputed by other historians who describe its origins as diplomatic and historical.

The Curzon line was used by Joseph Stalin as a significant argument in the talks with the Allied Powers during 1942-1945. Stalin argued that the Soviet Union could not demand less territory for itself than the British Government had reconfirmed via Curzon some two decades prior. This has been described as a strong strategic move by Stalin, adding more land to the Soviet Empire than a pure ethnodemographic study of the time would have justified.

There were two versions of the line "A" and "B". Version "B" allocated Lwówmarker (now Lviv, Ukraine) to Poland. The line "A" was used in 1945 as the basis for the permanent border between Poland and the Soviet Union, although with some differences.


At the end of World War I, the Allies agreed that an independent Polish state should be recreated from territories previously part of the Russian Empiremarker, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 said that the eastern border of Poland would be "subsequently determined." The lands lying between Poland and its eastern neighbours were inhabited by a mixed population of Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, with no group being a majority. A special commission on Polish Affairs was created and under the chairmanship of Lord Curzon worked out a plan for settling the future of Eastern Galicia. The commission drew up two alternative frontier lines. Line A, running east of Przemysl and west of Lvivmarker, was proposed as the boundary line between the Polish state proper and an autonomous Ukrainian Eastern Galicia, which the Poles hoped, would be under the suzerainty of Poland. Line B, on the other hand, farther to the east, left Lviv and Drohobychmarker with its oil fields to Poland and was recommended in the event Eastern Galicia be divided between Poland and an independent Western Ukrainian (Galician) state. It was not anticipated, however, that Eastern Galicia would fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks, whom the Allies namely Great Britain and France—were then trying to wipe out in Russia. The Supreme Council of the Allied Powers accepted the proposed Line (Line A), in general, as a "demarcation line" on December 8, 1919, when the Ukrainians were ousted by the numerically and technically superior Polish troops. Walter Dushnyck - Death and Devastation on the Curzon Line This fact had great influence on the negotiations about the Polish eastern border on the peace conferences in Teheran and Yaltamarker.
Because the Russian Empire had collapsed into a state of civil war following the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was no recognised Russian government with which the eastern border of Poland could be negotiated. However, one of the first acts of the new Russian government was to publicly denounce the treaties which had partitioned Poland. That left Poland in legal possession of the territories that Poland had held before the Partitions of Poland in 1772. The Bolshevik regime in Russia, on the other hand, wanted to invade Poland in order to carry the socialist revolution into the heart of Europe and particularly into Germany. The Polish-Soviet War ensued.

On 8 December 1919, the Allied powers made the following declaration: "The Principal Allied and Associated Powers, recognising that it is important as soon as possible to put a stop to the existing conditions of political uncertainty in which the Polish nation is placed and without prejudging the provisions, which must in the future define the eastern frontiers of Poland, hereby declare that they recognize the right of the Polish Government to proceed, according to the conditions previously provided by the Treaty with Poland of 28 June 1919, to organise a regular administration of the territories of the former Russian Empire situated to the West of the line described below. The rights that Poland may be able to establish over the territories situated to the East of the said line are expressly reserved."

During the course of the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921), Polish forces gained territories to the east of the line, taking Kiev in May 1920; the Bolsheviks launched a counterattack and advanced westward, approaching Warsawmarker. In July, the Poles appealed to the Allies to intervene. On 11 July, Lord Curzon proposed to the Soviet government a ceasefire along the line which had been suggested the previous year. On 17 July Chicherin representing the Soviets ironically commented on the delayed interest of the British for a peace treaty between Russia and Poland. He accepted to start negotiations as long as the Polish side asked for it. The Soviet side at that time offered more favourable border solutions to Poland than the ones offered by the Curzon lineE.H. Carr (1982). The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923 (A history of Soviet Russia), volume 3 , p.260, Greek edition , ekdoseis Ypodomi. In August the Soviets were defeated by the Poles just outside Warsaw and forced to retreat. At the Treaty of Riga in March 1921 the Soviets had to concede a frontier well to the east of the Curzon Line, giving Poland both Lwów and Wilnomarker (today Vilnius). The area around Wilno, called Central Lithuania, was the subject of a "referendum" in 1922, followed by incorporation to Poland according to the wish of 65% of the voters. The Polish-Soviet border was recognised by the League of Nations in 1923 and confirmed by various Polish-Soviet agreements.
The Curzon Line, 1945
The terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 provided for the partition of Poland along the line of the Sanmarker, Vistula and Narew rivers which did not go along Curzon Line but reached far beyond it and awarded Soviet Union with territories of Lublin and near Warsaw. In September, after the military defeat of Poland, the Soviet Union annexed all territories east of the Curzon Line plus Białystok and Eastern Galicia. The territories east of this line were incorporated into the Byelorussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR after staged referendums and hundreds of thousands of Poles and a lesser number of Jews were deported eastwards into the Soviet Union. In July 1941 these territories were seized by Germany in the course of the invasion of the Soviet Union. During the German occupation most of the Jewish population was killed by Germans.

In 1944 the Soviet armed forces recaptured eastern Poland from the Germans. The Soviets unilaterally declared a new frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland (approximately the same as the Curzon Line). The Polish government-in-exile in Londonmarker bitterly opposed this and at the Teheran and Yaltamarker conferences between Stalin and the western Allies, the allied leaders Roosevelt and Churchill asked Stalin to reconsider, particularly over Lwów, but he refused. The altered Curzon Line thus became the permanent eastern border of Poland and was recognised by the western Allies in July 1945.

When the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, the Curzon line became Poland's eastern border with Lithuaniamarker, Belarusmarker and Ukrainemarker.

Ethnography to the east of the Curzon Line

The population in the territories east of the Curzon Line (180,000 square kilometres) was 12 million, consisting of over 5 million Ukrainians, between 3.5 and 4 million Poles, 1.5 million Belarussians, and 1.3 million Jews.

None of the ethnic groups in the region formed a majority in the region as a whole. The Poles however, became the largest ethnic and religious group in these territories with the implementation of settlement policies of the 1920s, according to Polish state's census, Ukrainians were a large second (the Ukrainians however outnumbering Poles in the combined southern sections). The results of the Polish census of 1931 have been questioned, however, since its director later said they were falsified to undercount minorities.Other Eastern Slav groups such as the Rusyns, Belarusians, were often included in the Poles' number. Encouraged by the Polish resettlement policies much of the urban population were either ethnic Poles or Polish speaking Jews, while the rural population continued to speak Ukrainian or Belarusan. As a result the countryside was Belarusan or Ukrainian in character, whereas the cities had a Polish flavour.

The deportations of Poles from the Kresy in 1939–1941 (see Polish minority in Soviet Union) and the Holocaust left the Ukrainians and Belarusans as a majority population in the territories. The cities of Lwówmarker, Wilnomarker, Grodnomarker and some smaller towns still had significant Polish populations. After 1945, most of the Polish population of the area east of the new Soviet-Polish border fled or was expelled to the newly annexed German territories and the area today is almost entirely Belarusan (in the north) or Ukrainian (in the south). Despite the expulsions, there were about 500,000 Poles in Belarus in 2000 (5% of the Belarus population).

Ethnicity west of the Curzon Line

West of the Curzon line the Polish population was generally predominant in urban centres, especially the cities but not in the rural districts. A significant Belarusian rural population was incorporated into modern Poland around Białystok. A similar situation existed with the Ukrainian population around Chełmmarker. The extreme south had a large rural Ukrainian population also. Much of the non ethnic Polish population was forcibly resettled scattered in the new Polish "recovered territories" of Silesia, Pomerania, Lubusz Land, Warmia and Masuria after World War II in a military operation called Operation Wisła. These were pre-1937 territories of Germany from which the German population fled or was expelled.

See also



Further reading

  • Bohdan, Kordan. Autumn 1997. "Making Borders Stick: Population Transfer and Resettlement in the Trans- Curzon Territories, 1944–1949". Vol. 31, No. 3., pp. 704-720.

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