Barbara Pedzich. Between paradise and a cesspool.

The history of Poland in the 19th century together with the historiography of the 20th century imposed certain stereotypes on the interpretation of history of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth — stereotypes that warrant rethinking. Events in the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the early modern period have long been perceived through the prism of later conflicts and failures, particularly the partitions. The general belief that the Commonwealth somehow failed to evolve into a strong absolutist state has obscured the vitality of the traditions of regional self-government and social participation in state affairs as embodied in the sejmiki. The same can be said regarding the history of the towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: that they developed into important agro-urban trade centres thanks to the combined efforts of their owners and burghers has not been accorded the attention it deserves. The Commonwealth in the 17th century was a model of local democracy with a multi–ethnic and multi-religious society ruled by an elected monarch. Further more, ethnic diversity has all to often been percieved in terms of the conflict typical of the 19th century. In the 17th century, sources reveal that conflict was balanced by a far greater capacity for cooperation and co-existence. One need only recall the numerous instances in which ethnically and religiously diverse towns in the Grand Duchy rallied together to rout the enemy, as Sluck, Mahilou, Krycau or Stary Bychau, to cite only a few examples. Finally, the fact that in later centuries the towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania did not keep up the same tempo of development as their counterparts in the Crown and further West, does not in any way undermine the fact of their vitality in the 17th century.