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The Russian-Lithuanian wars (XVI-XVIIe) between the sources of the time and today’s historians





Descriptions of Russo-Lithuanian wars (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) in primary sources and modern historiographyAbstractWhen some historians describe wars, they tend to create most impressing and emotional pictures, particularly when focusing on disasters inflicted to civilians. More often than not, they simply reproduce the contents of their sources, and arouse feelings of anger, indignation, and immense grief. These descriptions are undoubtedly based on real events. But can we relay information provided by sources of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as factual and then proceed to build up historiographic concepts? Authors of chronicles and annals, serving officers, memoirists of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), Poland, and Russia wrote within definite state-political systems and ethical representations, and one of their main concerns was to charge the opponents with transgression of Christian ethics.Many of their invectives were taken at face value in modern Central and East European historiographies and used in political strife in the late 1980s and during the 1990s. This approach seemed all the more justified as the number of accessible sources was increasing. But, paradoxically, the increase in the quantity of sources does not always make it more difficult to manipulate them to support a particular viewpoint.Modern Belarusian historiography was especially vulnerable in that respect. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it had to discard a deep-rooted, complacent version of the historical Belarus-Russia relationship. This was achieved, in specialized as well as popular historical writings, by asserting that Russia waged not simply aggressive wars against the GDL, but wars aiming at destruction. The data on wartime disasters derived from sources were interpreted in terms of the modern theory of total war and supported by uncritical quotations. But contemporary history has come back at Belarusian historiography with a vengeance. The new, authoritarian political trend has drastically changed the situation: much of what has been written in the 1990s has been subjected to not too mild, practically official and administrative, critics. It seems only fair to note that this was triggered in the first place by uncritical use of historical sources.

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