Poland - History
: 01 wrz 2011, 13:50
THE POLES POSSESS one of the richest and most venerable historical traditions of all European peoples. Convention fixes the origins of Poland as a nation near the middle of the tenth century, contemporaneous with the Carolingians, Vikings, and Saracens, and a full hundred years before the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066. Throughout the subsequent centuries, the Poles managed despite great obstacles to build and maintain an unbroken cultural heritage. The same cannot be said of Polish statehood, which was notoriously precarious and episodic. Periods of independence and prosperity alternated with phases of foreign domination and disaster. Especially in more recent centuries, frequent adversity subjected the Poles to hardships scarcely equaled in European history.
Many foreign observers perceive Poland as a perennial victim of history, whose survival through perseverance and a dogged sense of national identity has left a mixed legacy of indomitable courage and intolerance toward outsiders. To Poles, their history includes brighter recollections of Poland as a highly cultured kingdom, uniquely indulgent of ethnic and religious diversity and precociously supportive of human liberty and the fundamental values of Western civilization. The contrast between these images reflects the extremes of fortune experienced by Poland. The two visions of history combine in uneasy coexistence in the Polish consciousness. One striking feature of Polish culture is its fascination with the national past; the unusual variety and intensity of that past defy tidy conclusions and produce energetic debate among Poles themselves on the meaning of their history.
Poland - EARLY HISTORY UNTIL 1385
In the first centuries of its existence, the Polish nation was led by a series of strong rulers who converted the Poles to Christendom, created a strong Central European state, and integrated Poland into European culture. Formidable foreign enemies and internal fragmentation eroded this initial structure in the thirteenth century, but consolidation in the 1300s laid the base for the dominant Polish Kingdom that was to follow.
The Origins of Poland
According to Polish myth, the Slavic nations trace their ancestry to three brothers who parted in the forests of Eastern Europe, each moving in a different direction to found a family of distinct but related peoples. Fanciful elements aside, this tale accurately describes the westward migration and gradual differentiation of the early West Slavic tribes following the collapse of the Roman Empire. About twenty such tribes formed small states between A.D. 800 and 960. One of these tribes, the Polanie or Poliane ("people of the plain"), settled in the flatlands that eventually formed the heart of Poland, lending their name to the country. Over time the modern Poles emerged as the largest of the West Slavic groupings, establishing themselves to the east of the Germanic regions of Europe with their ethnographic cousins, the Czechs and Slovaks, to the south.
In spite of convincing fragmentary evidence of prior political and social organization, national custom identifies the starting date of Polish history as 966, when Prince Mieszko (r. 963-92) accepted Christianity in the name of the people he ruled. In return, Poland received acknowledgment as a separate principality owing some degree of tribute to the German Empire (later officially known as the Holy Roman Empire). Under Otto I, the German Empire was an expansionist force to the West in the mid-tenth century. Mieszko accepted baptism directly from Rome in preference to conversion by the German church and subsequent annexation of Poland by the German Empire. This strategy inaugurated the intimate connection between the Polish national identity and Roman Catholicism that became a prominent theme in the history of the Poles.
Mieszko is considered the first ruler of the Piast Dynasty (named for the legendary peasant founder of the family), which endured for four centuries. Between 967 and 990, Mieszko conquered substantial territory along the Baltic Sea and in the region known as Little Poland to the south. By the time he officially submitted to the authority of the Holy See in Rome in 990, Mieszko had transformed his country into one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe.
Mieszko's son and successor Boleslaw I (992-1025), known as the Brave, built on his father's achievements and became the most successful Polish monarch of the early medieval era. Boleslaw continued the policy of appeasing the Germans while taking advantage of their political situation to gain territory wherever possible. Frustrated in his efforts to form an equal partnership with the Holy Roman Empire, Boleslaw gained some non-Polish territory in a series of wars against his imperial overlord in 1003 and 1004. The Polish conqueror then turned eastward, extending the boundaries of his realm into present-day Ukraine. Shortly before his death in 1025, Boleslaw won international recognition as the first king of a fully sovereign Poland.
Poland - The Medieval Era
During the eleventh century and the first half of the twelfth century, the building of the Polish state continued under a series of successors to Boleslaw I. But by 1150, the state had been divided among the sons of Boleslaw III, beginning two centuries of fragmentation that brought Poland to the brink of dissolution.
Fragmentation and Invasion, 1025-1320
The most fabled event of the period was the murder in 1079 of Stanislaw, the bishop of Kraków. A participant in uprisings by the aristocracy against King Boleslaw II, Stanislaw was killed by order of the king. This incident, which led to open rebellion and ended the reign of Boleslaw, is a Polish counterpart to the later, more famous assassination of Thomas ŕ Becket on behalf of King Henry II of England. Although historians still debate the circumstances of the death, after his canonization the martyred St. Stanislaw entered national lore as a potent symbol of resistance to illegitimate state authority--an allegorical weapon that proved especially effective against the communist regime.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Poland lost ground in its complex triangular relationship with the German Empire to the west and the kingdom of Bohemia to the south. New foreign enemies appeared by the thirteenth century. The Mongol invasion cut a swath of destruction through the country in 1241; for fifty years after their withdrawal in 1242, Mongol nomads mounted devastating raids into Poland from bases in Ruthenia to the southeast. Meanwhile, an even more dangerous foe arrived in 1226 when a Polish duke invited the Teutonic Knights, a Germanic crusading order, to help him subdue Baltic pagan tribes. Upon completing their mission with characteristic fierceness and efficiency, the knights built a stronghold on the Baltic seacoast, from which they sought to enlarge their holdings at Polish expense. By that time, the Piasts had been parceling out the realm into ever smaller units for nearly 100 years. This policy of division, initiated by Boleslaw II to appease separatist provinces while maintaining national unity, led to regional governance by various branches of the dynasty and to a near breakdown of cohesiveness in the face of foreign aggression. As the fourteenth century opened, much Polish land lay under foreign occupation (two-thirds of it was ruled by Bohemia in 1300). The continued existence of a united, independent Poland seemed unlikely.
The Later Piasts
In the fourteenth century, after a long period of instability and growing menace from without, the Polish state experienced a half century of recovery under the last monarchs of the house of Piast. By 1320 Wladyslaw Lokietek (1314-33), called the Short, had manipulated internal and foreign alignments and reunited enough territory to win acceptance abroad as king of an independent Poland. His son Kazimierz III (1333-70) would become the only Polish king to gain the sobriquet "great." In foreign policy, Kazimierz the Great strengthened his country's position by combining judicious concessions to Bohemia and the Teutonic Knights with eastward expansion.
While using diplomacy to win Poland a respite from external threat, the king focused on domestic consolidation. He earned his singular reputation through his acumen as a builder and administrator as well as through foreign relations. Two of the most important events of Kazimierz's rule were the founding of Poland's first university in Kraków in 1364, making that city an important European cultural center, and his mediation between the kings of Bohemia and Hungary at the Congress of Kraków (also in 1364), signaling Poland's return to the status of a European power. Lacking a male heir, Kazimierz was the last ruler in the Piast line. The extinction of the dynasty in 1370 led to several years of renewed political uncertainty. Nevertheless, the accomplishments of the fourteenth century began the ascent of the Polish state toward its historical zenith.
Poland - Integration into European Civilization
Without question the most significant development of the formative era of Poland's history was the gradual absorption of the country into the culture of medieval Europe. After their relatively late arrival as pagan outsiders on the fringes of the Christian world, the Western Slavs were fully and speedily assimilated into the civilization of the European Middle Ages. Latin Christianity came to determine the identity of that civilization and permeate its intellect and creativity. Over time the Central Europeans increasingly patterned their thought and institutions on Western models in areas of thought ranging from philosophy, artistic style, literature, and architecture to government, law, and social structure. The Poles borrowed especially heavily from German sources, and successive Polish rulers encouraged a substantial immigration of Germans and Jews to invigorate urban life and commerce. From its beginning, Poland drew its primary inspiration from Western Europe and developed a closer affinity with the French and Italians, for example, than with nearer Slavic neighbors of Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine heritage. This westward orientation, which in some ways has made Poland the easternmost outpost of Latinate and Catholic tradition, helps to explain the Poles' tenacious sense of belonging to the "West" and their deeply rooted antagonism toward Russia as the representative of an essentially alien way of life.
Poland - THE JAGIELLON ERA, 1385-1572
The next major period was dominated by the union of Poland with Lithuania under a dynasty founded by the Lithuanian grand duke Jagiello. The partnership proved profitable for the Poles, who played a dominant role in one of the most powerful empires in Europe for the next three centuries.
The Polish-Lithuanian Union
Poland's unlikely partnership with the adjoining Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Europe's last heathen state, provided an immediate remedy to the political and military dilemma caused by the end of the Piast Dynasty. At the end of the fourteenth century, Lithuania was a warlike political unit with dominion over enormous stretches of present-day Belarus and Ukraine. Putting aside their previous hostility, Poland and Lithuania saw that they shared common enemies, most notably the Teutonic Knights; this situation was the direct incentive for the Union of Krewo in 1385. The compact hinged on the marriage of the Polish queen Jadwiga to Jagiello, who became king of Poland under the name Wladyslaw Jagiello. In return, the new monarch accepted baptism in the name of his people, agreed to confederate Lithuania with Poland, and took the name Wladyslaw II. In 1387 the bishopric of Wilno was established to convert Wladyslaw's subjects to Roman Catholicism. (Eastern Orthodoxy predominated in some parts of Lithuania.) From a military standpoint, Poland received protection from the Mongols and Tatars, while Lithuania received aid in its long struggle against the Teutonic Knights.
The Polish-Lithuanian alliance exerted a profound influence on the history of Eastern Europe. Poland and Lithuania would maintain joint statehood for more than 400 years, and over the first three centuries of that span the "Commonwealth of Two Nations" ranked as one of the leading powers of the continent.
The association produced prompt benefits in 1410 when the forces of Poland-Lithuania defeated the Teutonic Knights in battle at Grunwald (Tannenberg), at last seizing the upper hand in the long struggle with the renegade crusaders. The new Polish Lithuanian dynasty, called "Jagiellon" after its founder, continued to augment its holdings during the following decades. By the end of the fifteenth century, representatives of the Jagiellons reigned in Bohemia and Hungary as well as PolandLithuania , establishing the government of their clan over virtually all of Eastern Europe and Central Europe. This farflung federation collapsed in 1526 when armies of the Ottoman Empire won a crushing victory at the Battle of Mohács (Hungary), wresting Bohemia and Hungary from the Jagiellons and installing the Turks as a menacing presence in the heart of Europe.
Poland - The "Golden Age" of the Sixteenth Century
The Jagiellons never recovered their hegemony over Central Europe, and the ascendancy of the Ottomans foreshadowed the eventual subjection of the entire region to foreign rule; but the half century that followed the Battle of Mohács marked an era of stability, affluence, and cultural advancement unmatched in national history and widely regarded by Poles as their country's golden age.
Poland-Lithuania as a European Power
The Teutonic Knights had been reduced to vassalage, and despite the now persistent threats posed by the Turks and an emerging Russian colossus, Poland-Lithuania managed to defend its status as one of the largest and most prominent states of Europe. The wars and diplomacy of the century yielded no dramatic expansion but shielded the country from significant disturbance and permitted significant internal development. An "Eternal Peace" concluded with the Ottoman Turks in 1533 lessened but did not remove the threat of invasion from that quarter.
A lucrative agricultural export market was the foundation for the kingdom's wealth. A population boom in Western Europe prompted an increased demand for foodstuffs; Poland-Lithuania became Europe's foremost supplier of grain, which was shipped abroad from the Baltic seaport of Gdansk. Aside from swelling Polish coffers, the prosperous grain trade supported other notable aspects of national development. It reinforced the preeminence of the landowning nobility that received its profits, and it helped to preserve a traditionally rural society and economy at a time when Western Europe had begun moving toward urbanization and capitalism.
The Government of Poland-Lithuania
In other respects as well, the distinctive features of Jagiellonian Poland ran against the historical trends of early modern Europe. Not the least of those features was its singular governmental structure and practice. In an era that favored the steady accumulation of power within the hands of European monarchs, Poland-Lithuania developed a markedly decentralized system dominated by a landed aristocracy that kept royal authority firmly in check. The Polish nobility, or szlachta, enjoyed the considerable benefits of landownership and control over the labor of the peasantry. The szlachta included 7 to 10 percent of the population, making it a very large noble class by European standards. The nobility manifested an impressive group solidarity in spite of great individual differences in wealth and standing. Over time, the gentry induced a series of royal concessions and guarantees that vested the noble parliament, or Sejm, with decisive control over most aspects of statecraft, including exclusive rights to the making of laws. The Sejm operated on the principle of unanimous consent, regarding each noble as irreducibly sovereign. In a further safeguard of minority rights, Polish usage sanctioned the right of a group of gentry to form a confederation, which in effect constituted an uprising aimed at redress of grievances. The nobility also possessed the crucial right to elect the monarch, although the Jagiellons were in practice a hereditary ruling house in all but the formal sense. The prestige of the Jagiellons and the certainty of their succession supplied an element of cohesion that tempered the disruptive forces built into the state system.
In retrospect historians frequently have derided the idiosyneratic, delicate governmental mechanism of PolandLithuania as a recipe for anarchy. Although its eventual breakdown contributed greatly to the loss of independence in the eighteenth century, the system worked reasonably well for 200 years while fostering a spirit of civic liberality unmatched in the Europe of its day. The host of legal protections that the nobility enacted for itself prefigured the rights generally accorded the citizens of modern democracies, and the memory of the "golden freedoms" of Poland-Lithuania is an important part of the Poles' present-day sense of their tradition of liberty. On the other hand, the exclusion of the lower nobility from most of those protections caused serious resentment among that largely impoverished class, and the aristocracy passed laws in the early sixteenth century that made the peasants virtual slaves to the flourishing agricultural enterprises.
Poland-Lithuania in the Reformation Era
In modern eyes, the most saliently liberal aspect of Jagiellon Poland is its exceptional toleration of religious dissent. This tolerance prevailed in Poland even during the religious upheavals, war, and atrocities associated with the Protestant Reformation and its repercussions in many parts of sixteenth-century Europe. The Reformation arrived in Poland between 1523 and 1526. The small Calvinist, Lutheran, and Hussite groups that sprang up were harshly persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church in their early years. Then in 1552 the Sejm suspended civil execution of ecclesiastical sentences for heresy. For the next 130 years, Poland remained solidly Roman Catholic while refusing to repress contending faiths and providing refuge for a wide variety of religious nonconformists.
Such broad-mindedness derived as much from practical necessity as from principle, for Poland-Lithuania governed a populace of remarkable ethnic and religious diversity, embracing Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and numerous nonChristians . In particular, after the mid-sixteenth century the Polish lands supported the world's largest concentration of Jews, whose number was estimated at 150,000 in 1582. Under the Jagiellons, Jews suffered fewer restrictions in Poland-Lithuania than elsewhere in Europe while establishing an economic niche as tradesmen and managers of noble estates.
The Polish Renaissance
The sixteenth century was perhaps the most illustrious phase of Polish cultural history. During this period, Poland-Lithuania drew great artistic inspiration from the Italians, with whom the Jagiellon court cultivated close relations. Styles and tastes characteristic of the late Renaissance were imported from the Italian states. These influences survived in the renowned period architecture of Kraków, which served as the royal capital until that distinction passed to Warsaw in 1611. The University of Kraków gained international recognition as a cosmopolitan center of learning, and in 1543 its most illustrious student, Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik), literally revolutionized the science of astronomy.
The period also bore the fruit of a mature Polish literature, once again modeled after the fashion of the West European Renaissance. The talented dilettante Mikolaj Rej was the first major Polish writer to employ the vernacular, but the elegant classicist Jan Kochanowski (1530-84) is acknowledged as the genius of the age. Accomplished in several genres and equally adept in Polish and Latin, Kochanowski is widely regarded as the finest Slavic poet before the nineteenth century.
The Eastern Regions of the Realm
The population of Poland-Lithuania was not overwhelmingly Catholic or Slavic. This circumstance resulted from the federation with Lithuania, where ethnic Poles were a distinct minority. In those days, to be Polish was much less an indication of ethnicity than of rank; it was a designation largely reserved for the landed noble class, which included members of Polish and non-Polish origin alike. Generally speaking, the ethnically nonPolish noble families of Lithuania adopted the Polish language and culture. As a result, in the eastern territories of the kingdom a Polish or Polonized aristocracy dominated a peasantry whose great majority was neither Polish nor Catholic. This bred resentment that later grew into separate Lithuanian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian nationalist movements.
In the mid-sixteenth century, Poland-Lithuania sought ways to maintain control of the diverse kingdom in spite of two threatening circumstances. First, since the late 1400s a series of ambitious tsars of the house of Rurik had led Russia in competing with Poland-Lithuania for influence over the Slavic territories located between the two states. Second, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-72) had no male heir. The Jagiellon Dynasty, the strongest link between the halves of the state, would end after his reign. Accordingly, the Union of Lublin of 1569 transformed the loose federation and personal union of the Jagiellonian epoch into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, deepening and formalizing the bonds between Poland and Lithuania.
Poland - THE NOBLE REPUBLIC, 1572-1795
Although most accounts of Polish history show the two centuries after the end of the Jagiellon Dynasty as a time of decline leading to foreign domination, Poland-Lithuania remained an influential player in European politics and a vital cultural entity through most of the period.
The Elective Monarchy
The death of Sigismund II Augustus in 1572 was followed by a three-year Interregnum during which adjustments were made in the constitutional system. The lower nobility was now included in the selection process, and the power of the monarch was further circumscribed in favor of the expanded noble class. From that point, the king was effectively a partner with the noble class and constantly supervised by a group of senators. Once the Jagiellons passed from the scene, the fragile equilibrium of the commonwealth government began to go awry. The constitutional reforms made the monarchy electoral in fact as well as name. As more and more power went to the noble electors, it also eroded from the government's center.
In its periodic opportunities to fill the throne, the szlachta exhibited a preference for foreign candidates who would not found another strong dynasty. This policy produced monarchs who were either totally ineffective or in constant debilitating conflict with the nobility. Furthermore, aside from notable exceptions such as the able Transylvanian Stefan Batory (1576-86), the kings of alien origin were inclined to subordinate the interests of the commonwealth to those of their own country and ruling house. This tendency was most obvious in the prolonged military adventures waged by Sigismund III Vasa (1587-1632) against Russia and his native Sweden. On occasion, these campaigns brought Poland near to conquest of Muscovy and the Baltic coast, but they compounded the military burden imposed by the ongoing rivalry with the Turks, and the Swedes and Russians extracted heavy repayment a few decades later.
Poland - The Deluge, 1648-67
Although Poland-Lithuania escaped the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, which ended in 1648, the ensuing two decades subjected the country to one of its severest trials. This colorful but ruinous interval, the stuff of legend and the popular historical novels of Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), became known as the potop, or deluge, for the magnitude of its hardships. The emergency began with an uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks that persisted in spite of Warsaw's efforts to subdue it by force. After the rebels won the intervention of Muscovy on their behalf, Tsar Aleksei conquered most of the eastern half of the country by 1655. Taking advantage of Poland's preoccupation, Charles X of Sweden rapidly overran much of the remaining territory of the commonwealth in 1655. Pushed to the brink of dissolution, Poland-Lithuania rallied to recover most of its losses to the Swedes. Swedish brutality raised widespread revolts against Charles, whom the Polish nobles had recognized as their ruler in the meantime. Under Stefan Czarniecki, the Poles and Lithuanians drove the Swedes from their territory by 1657. Further complicated by noble dissension and wars with the Ottoman Turks, the thirteen-year struggle over control of Ukraine ended in the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667. Although Russia had been defeated by a new Polish-Ukrainian alliance in 1662, Russia gained eastern Ukraine in the peace treaty.
Despite the improbable survival of the commonwealth in the face of the potop, one of the most dramatic instances of the Poles' knack for prevailing in adversity, the episode inflicted irremediable damage and contributed heavily to the ultimate demise of the state. When Jan II Kaziemierz abdicated in 1668, the population of the commonwealth had been nearly halved by war and disease. War had destroyed the economic base of the cities and raised a religious fervor that ended Poland's policy of religious tolerance. Henceforth, the commonwealth would be on the strategic defensive facing hostile neighbors. Never again would Poland compete with Russia as a military equal.
Poland - Decay of the Commonwealth
Before another 100 years had elapsed, Poland-Lithuania had virtually ceased to function as a coherent and genuinely independent state. The commonwealth's last martial triumph occurred in 1683 when King Jan Sobieski drove the Turks from the gates of Vienna with a cavalry charge. Poland's important role in aiding the European alliance to roll back the Ottoman Empire was rewarded with territory in western Ukraine by the Treaty of Karlowicz (1699). Nonetheless, this isolated success did little to mask the internal weakness and paralysis of the PolishLithuanian political system. For the next quarter century, Poland was often a pawn in Russia's campaigns against other powers. Augustus II of Saxony (1697-1733), who succeeded Jan Sobieski, involved Poland in Peter the Great's war with Sweden, incurring another round of invasion and devastation by the Swedes between 1704 and 1710.
In the eighteenth century, the powers of the monarchy and the central administration became purely trivial. Kings were denied permission to provide for the elementary requirements of defense and finance, and aristocratic clans made treaties directly with foreign sovereigns. Attempts at reform were stymied by the determination of the szlachta to preserve their "golden freedoms" as well as the rule of unanimity in the Sejm, where any deputy could exercise his veto right to disrupt the parliament and nullify its work. Because of the chaos sown by the veto provision, under Augustus III (1733-63) only one of thirteen Sejm sessions ran to an orderly adjournment.
Unlike Spain and Sweden, great powers that were allowed to settle peacefully into secondary status at the periphery of Europe at the end of their time of glory, Poland endured its decline at the strategic crossroads of the continent. Lacking central leadership and impotent in foreign relations, PolandLithuania became a chattel of the ambitious kingdoms that surrounded it, an immense but feeble buffer state. During the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), the commonwealth fell under the dominance of Russia, and by the middle of the eighteenth century Poland-Lithuania had been made a virtual protectorate of its eastern neighbor, retaining only the theoretical right to self-rule.
Poland - The Three Partitions, 1764-95
During the reign of Empress Catherine the Great (1762-96), Russia intensified its manipulation in Polish affairs. Prussia and Austria, the other powers surrounding the republic, also took advantage of internal religious and political bickering to divide up the country in three partition stages. The third partition in 1795 wiped Poland-Lithuania from the map of Europe.
In 1764 Catherine dictated the election of her former favorite, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, as king of PolandLithuania . Confounding expectations that he would be an obedient servant of his mistress, Stanislaw August encouraged the modernization of his realm's ramshackle political system and achieved a temporary moratorium on use of the individual veto in the Sejm (1764-66). This turnabout threatened to renew the strength of the monarchy and brought displeasure in the foreign capitals that preferred an inert, pliable Poland. Catherine, among the most displeased by Poniatowski's independence, encouraged religious dissension in Poland-Lithuania's substantial Eastern Orthodox population, which earlier in the eighteenth century had lost the rights enjoyed during the Jagiellon Dynasty. Under heavy Russian pressure, the Sejm restored Orthodox equality in 1767. This action provoked a Catholic uprising by the Confederation of Bar, a league of Polish nobles that fought until 1772 to revoke Catherine's mandate.
The defeat of the Confederation of Bar again left Poland exposed to the ambitions of its neighbors. Although Catherine initially opposed partition, Frederick the Great of Prussia profited from Austria's threatening military position to the southwest by pressing a long-standing proposal to carve territory from the commonwealth. Catherine, persuaded that Russia did not have the resources to continue unilateral domination of Poland, agreed. In 1772 Russia, Prussia, and Austria forced terms of partition upon the helpless commonwealth under the pretext of restoring order in the anarchic Polish situation.
The first partition in 1772 did not directly threaten the viability of Poland-Lithuania. Poland retained extensive territory that included the Polish heartland. In fact, the shock of the annexations made clear the dangers of decay in government institutions, creating a body of opinion favorable to reform along the lines of the European Enlightenment. King Stanislaw August supported the progressive elements in the government and promoted the ideas of foreign political figures such as Edmund Burke and George Washington. At the same time, Polish intellectuals discussed Enlightenment philosophers such as Montesquieu and Rousseau. During this period, the concept of democratic institutions for all classes was accepted in Polish society. Education reform included establishment of the first ministry of education in Europe. Taxation and the army underwent thorough reform, and government again was centralized in the Permanent Council. Landholders emancipated large numbers of peasants, although there was no official government decree. Polish cities, in decline for many decades, were revived by the influence of the Industrial Revolution, especially in mining and textiles.
Stanislaw August's process of renovation reached its climax on May 3, 1791, when, after three years of intense debate, the "Four Years' Sejm" produced Europe's first written constitution. Conceived in the liberal spirit of the contemporaneous document in the United States, the constitution recast Poland-Lithuania as a hereditary monarchy and abolished many of the eccentricities and antiquated features of the old system. The new constitution abolished the individual veto in parliament; provided a separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and established "people's sovereignty" (for the noble and bourgeois classes). Although never fully implemented, the Constitution of May 3 gained an honored position in the Polish political heritage; tradition marks the anniversary of its passage as the country's most important civic holiday.
Destruction of Poland-Lithuania
Passage of the constitution alarmed nobles who would lose considerable stature under the new order. In autocratic states such as Russia, the democratic ideals of the constitution also threatened the existing order, and the prospect of Polish recovery threatened to end domination of Polish affairs by its neighbors. In 1792 domestic and foreign reactionaries combined to end the democratization process. Polish conservative factions formed the Confederation of Targowica and appealed for Russian assistance in restoring the status quo. Catherine gladly used this opportunity; enlisting Prussian support, she invaded Poland under the pretext of defending Poland's ancient liberties. The irresolute Stanislaw August capitulated, defecting to the Targowica faction. Arguing that Poland had fallen prey to the radical Jacobinism then at high tide in France, Russia and Prussia abrogated the Constitution of May 3, carried out a second partition of Poland in 1793, and placed the remainder of the country under occupation by Russian troops.
The second partition was far more injurious than the first. Russia received a vast area of eastern Poland, extending southward from its gains in the first partition nearly to the Black Sea. To the west, Prussia received an area known as South Prussia, nearly twice the size of its first-partition gains along the Baltic, as well as the port of Gdansk (then renamed Danzig). Thus, Poland's neighbors reduced the commonwealth to a rump state and plainly signaled their designs to abolish it altogether at their convenience.
In a gesture of defiance, a general Polish revolt broke out in 1794 under the leadership of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a military officer who had rendered notable service in the American Revolution. Kosciuszko's ragtag insurgent armies won some initial successes, but they eventually fell before the superior forces of Russian General Alexander Suvorov. In the wake of the insurrection of 1794, Russia, Prussia, and Austria carried out the third and final partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795, erasing the Commonwealth of Two Nations from the map and pledging never to let it return.
Much of Europe condemned the dismemberment as an international crime without historical parallel. Amid the distractions of the French Revolution and its attendant wars, however, no state actively opposed the annexations. In the long term, the dissolution of Poland-Lithuania upset the traditional European balance of power, dramatically magnifying the influence of Russia and paving the way for the Germany that would emerge in the nineteenth century with Prussia at its core. For the Poles, the third partition began a period of continuous foreign rule that would endure well over a century.
Poland - PARTITIONED POLAND
Although the majority of the szlachta was reconciled to the end of the commonwealth in 1795, the possibility of Polish independence was kept alive by events within and outside Poland throughout the nineteenth century. Poland's location in the very center of Europe became especially significant in a period when both Prussia/Germany and Russia were intensely involved in European rivalries and alliances and modern nation states took form over the entire continent.
The Napoleonic Period
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Europe had begun to feel the impact of momentous political and intellectual movements that, among their other effects, would keep the "Polish Question" on the agenda of international issues needing resolution. Most immediately, Napoleon Bonaparte had established a new empire in France in 1804 following that country's revolution. Napoleon's attempts to build and expand his empire kept Europe at war for the next decade and brought him into conflict with the same East European powers that had beleaguered Poland in the last decades of the previous century. An alliance of convenience was the natural result of this situation. Volunteer Polish legions attached themselves to Bonaparte's armies, hoping that in return the emperor would allow an independent Poland to reappear out of his conquests.
Although Napoleon promised more than he ever intended to deliver to the Polish cause, in 1807 he created a Duchy of Warsaw from Prussian territory that had been part of old Poland and was still inhabited by Poles. Basically a French puppet, the duchy did enjoy some degree of self-government, and many Poles believed that further Napoleonic victories would bring restoration of the entire commonwealth.
In 1809, under Józef Poniatowski, nephew of Stanislaw II Augustus, the duchy reclaimed the land taken by Austria in the second partition. The Russian army occupied the duchy as it chased Napoleon out of Russia in 1813, however, and Polish expectations ended with the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. In the subsequent peace settlement of the Congress of Vienna, the victorious Austrians and Prussians swept away the Duchy of Warsaw and reconfirmed most of the terms of the final partition of Poland.
Although brief,the Napoleonic period occupies an important place in Polish annals. Much of the legend and symbolism of modern Polish patriotism derives from this period, including the conviction that Polish independence is a necessary element of a just and legitimate European order. This conviction was simply expressed in a fighting slogan of the time, "for your freedom and ours." Moreover, the appearance of the Duchy of Warsaw so soon after the partitions proved that the seemingly final historical death sentence delivered in 1795 was not necessarily the end of the Polish nation. Instead, many observers came to believe that favorable circumstances would free Poland from foreign domination.
The Impact of Nationalism and Romanticism
The intellectual and artistic climate of the early nineteenth century further stimulated the growth of Polish demands for selfgovernment . During these decades, modern nationalism took shape and rapidly developed a massive following throughout the continent, becoming the most dynamic and appealing political doctrine of its time. By stressing the value and dignity of native cultures and languages, nationalism offered a rationale for ethnic loyalty and resistance to assimilation. The associated principle of the nation state, or national homeland, provided a rallying cry for the stateless peoples of Europe.
Romanticism was the artistic element of nineteenth-century European culture that exerted the strongest influence on the Polish national consciousness. The Romantic movement was a natural partner of political nationalism, for it echoed the nationalist sympathy for folk cultures and manifested a general air of disdain for the conservative political order of postNapoleonic Europe. Under this influence, Polish literature flourished anew in the works of a school of nineteenth-century Romantic poets, led by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855). Mickiewicz concentrated on patriotic themes and the glorious national past. Frédéric Chopin (1810-49), a leading composer of the century, also used the tragic history of his nation as a major inspiration.
Nurtured by these influences, nationalism awoke first among the intelligentsia and certain segments of the nobility, then more gradually in the peasantry. At the end of the process, a broader definition of nationhood had replaced the old class-based "gentry patriotism" of Poland.
The Era of National Insurrections
For several decades, the Polish national movement gave priority to the immediate restoration of independence, a drive that found expression in a series of armed rebellions. The insurgencies arose mainly in the Russian zone of partition to the east, about three-quarters of which was formerly Polish territory. After the Congress of Vienna, St. Petersburg had organized its Polish lands as the Congress Kingdom of Poland, granting it a quite liberal constitution, its own army, and limited autonomy within the tsarist empire. In the 1820s, however, Russian rule grew more arbitrary, and secret societies were formed by intellectuals in several cities to plot an overthrow. In November 1830, Polish troops in Warsaw rose in revolt. When the government of Congress Poland proclaimed solidarity with the insurrectionists shortly thereafter, a new Polish-Russian war began. The rebels' requests for aid from France were ignored, and their reluctance to abolish serfdom cost them the support of the peasantry. By September 1831, the Russians had subdued Polish resistance and forced 6,000 resistance fighters into exile in France, beginning a time of harsh repression of intellectual and religious activity throughout Poland. At the same time, Congress Poland lost its constitution and its army.
After the failure of the November Revolt, clandestine conspiratorial activity continued on Polish territory. An exiled Polish political and intellectual elite established a base of operations in Paris. A conservative group headed by Adam Czartoryski (leader of the November Revolt) relied on foreign diplomatic support to restore Poland's status as established by the Congress of Vienna, which Russia had routinely violated beginning in 1819. Otherwise, this group was satisfied with a return to monarchy and traditional social structures.
The radical factions never formed a united front on any issue besides the general goal of independence. Their programs insisted that the Poles liberate themselves by their own efforts and linked independence with republicanism and the emancipation of the peasants. Handicapped by internal division, limited resources, heavy surveillance, and persecution of revolutionary cells in Poland, the Polish national movement suffered numerous losses. The movement sustained a major setback in the 1846 revolt organized in Austrian Poland by the Polish Democratic Society, the leading radical nationalist group. The uprising ended in a bloody fiasco when the peasantry took up arms against the gentry rebel leadership, which was regarded as potentially a worse oppressor than the Austrians. By incurring harsh military repression from Austria, the failed revolt left the Polish nationalists in poor position to participate in the wave of national revolution that crossed Europe in 1848 and 1849. The stubborn idealism of this unprising's leaders emphasized individual liberty and separate national identity rather than establishment of a unified republic--a significant change of political philosophy from earlier movements.
The last and most tenacious of the Polish uprisings of the mid- nineteenth century erupted in the Russian-occupied sector in January 1863. Following Russia's disastrous defeat in the Crimean War, the government of Tsar Alexander II enacted a series of liberal reforms, including liberation of the serfs throughout the empire. High-handed imposition of land reforms in Poland aroused hostility among the landed nobles and a group of young radical intellectuals influenced by Karl Marx and the Russian liberal Alexander Herzen. Repeating the pattern of 1830-31, the open revolt of the January Insurrection by Congress Poland failed to win foreign backing. Although its socially progressive program could not mobilize the peasants, the rebellion persisted stubbornly for fifteen months. After finally crushing the insurgency in August 1864, Russia abolished the Congress Kingdom of Poland altogether and revoked the separate status of the Polish lands, incorporating them directly as the Western Region of the Russian Empire. The region was placed under the dictatorial rule of Mikhail Muravev, who became known as the Hangman of Wilno. All Polish citizens were assimilated into the empire. When Russia officially emancipated the Polish serfs in early 1864, it removed a major rallying point from the agenda of potential Polish revolutionaries.
The Time of "Organic Work"
Increasing oppression at Russian hands after failed national uprisings finally convinced Polish leaders that insurrection was premature at best and perhaps fundamentally misguided and counterproductive. During the decades that followed the January Insurrection, Poles largely forsook the goal of immediate independence and turned instead to fortifying the nation through the subtler means of education, economic development, and modernization. This approach took the name Organic Work for its philosophy of strengthening Polish society at the grass roots. For some, the adoption of Organic Work meant permanent resignation to foreign rule, but many advocates recommended it as a strategy to combat repression while awaiting an eventual opportunity to achieve self-government.
Not nearly as colorful as the rebellions nor as loftily enshrined in national memory, the quotidian methods of Organic Work proved well suited to the political conditions of the later nineteenth century. The international balance of forces did not favor the recovery of statehood when both Russia and Germany appeared bent on the eventual eradication of Polish national identity. The German Empire, established in 1871 as an expanded version of the Prussian state, aimed at the assimilation of its eastern provinces inhabited by Poles. At the same time, St. Petersburg attempted to Russify the former Congress Kingdom, joining Berlin in levying restrictions against use of the Polish language and cultural expression. Poles under Russian and German rule also endured official campaigns against the Roman Catholic Church: the Cultural Struggle (Kulturkampf) of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to bring the Roman Catholic Church under state control and the Russian campaign to extend Orthodoxy throughout the empire.
The Polish subjects under Austrian jurisdiction (after 1867 the Habsburg Empire was commonly known as Austria-Hungary) confronted a generally more lenient regime. Poles suffered no religious persecution in predominantly Catholic Austria, and Vienna counted on the Polish nobility as allies in the complex political calculus of its multinational realm. In return for loyalty, Austrian Poland, or Galicia, received considerable administrative and cultural autonomy. Galicia gained a reputation as an oasis of toleration amidst the oppression of German and Russian Poland. The Galician provincial Sejm acted as a semiautonomous parliamentary body, and Poles represented the region in the empire government in Vienna. In the late 1800s, the universities of Kraków and L'vov (Polish form Lwów) became the centers of Polish intellectual activity, and Kraków became the center of Polish art and thought. Even after the restoration of independence, many residents of southern Poland retained a touch of nostalgia for the days of the Habsburg Empire.
Social and Political Transformation
Throughout the later nineteenth century, profound social and economic forces operated on the Polish lands, giving them a more modern aspect and altering traditional patterns of life. Especially in Russian Poland and the Silesian regions under German control, mining and manufacturing commenced on a large scale. This development sped the process of urbanization, and the emergence of capitalism began to reduce the relative importance of the landed aristocracy in Polish society. A considerable segment of the peasantry abandoned the overburdened land. Millions of Poles emigrated to North America and other destinations, and millions more migrated to cities to form the new industrial labor force. These shifts stimulated fresh social tensions. Urban workers bore the full range of hardships associated with early capitalism, and the intensely nationalistic atmosphere of the day bred frictions between Poles and the other peoples remaining from the old heterogeneous Commonwealth of Two Nations. The movement of the former noble class into cities created a new urban professional class. Mirroring a trend visible throughout Central Europe, antisemitic sentiment mounted visibly, fed by Poles competing for the urban livelihoods long regarded as Jewish specialties.
These transformations changed the face of politics as well, giving rise to new parties and movements that would dominate the Polish landscape for the next century. The grievances of the lower classes led to the formation of peasant and socialist parties. Communism gained only a marginal following, but a more moderate socialist faction led by Józef Pilsudski (1867-1935) won broader support through its emphatic advocacy of Polish independence. By 1905 Pilsudski's party, the Polish Socialist Party, was the largest socialist party in the entire Russian Empire. The National Democracy of Roman Dmowski (1864-1939) became the leading vehicle of the right by espousing a doctrine that combined nationalism with mistrust of Jews and other minorities. By the turn of the century, Polish political life had emerged from the relative quiescence of Organic Work and entered a stage of renewed assertiveness. In particular, Pilsudski and Dmowski had initiated what would be long careers as the paramount figures in the civic affairs of Poland. After 1900 political activity was suppressed only in the Prussian sector.
Poland - INDEPENDENCE WON AND LOST, 1914-45
Beginning in 1914, the newly invigorated Polish political scene combined with cataclysmic events on the European continent to offer both new hope and grave threats to the Polish people. By the end of World War II, Poland had seen the defeat or retreat of all three occupying powers, establishment of a shaky independent government, world economic crisis, then occupation and total domination by the resurgent Germans and Russians.
World War I
The first general European conflict since the Napoleonic Wars exerted a huge impact on the Poles, although their position in Europe was not an issue among the combatants. Again, however, Poland's geographical position between Germany and Russia meant much fighting and terrific human and material losses for the Poles between 1914 and 1918.
War and the Polish Lands
The war split the ranks of the three partitioning empires, pitting Russia as defender of Serbia and ally of Britain and France against the leading members of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary. This circumstance afforded the Poles political leverage as both sides offered pledges of concessions and future autonomy in exchange for Polish loyalty and recruits. The Austrians wanted to incorporate Congress Poland into their territory of Galicia, so they allowed nationalist organizations to form there. The Russians recognized the Polish right to autonomy and allowed formation of the Polish National Committee, which supported the Russian side. In 1916, attempting to increase Polish support for the Central Powers, the German and Austrian emperors declared a new kingdom of Poland. The new kingdom included only a small part of the old commonwealth, however.
As the war settled into a long stalemate, the issue of Polish self-rule gained greater urgency. Roman Dmowski spent the war years in Western Europe, hoping to persuade the Allies to unify the Polish lands under Russian rule as an initial step toward liberation. In the meantime, Pilsudski had correctly predicted that the war would ruin all three of the partitioners, a conclusion most people thought highly unlikely before 1918. Pilsudski therefore formed Polish legions to assist the Central Powers in defeating Russia as the first step toward full independence for Poland.
Much of the heavy fighting on the war's Eastern Front took place on the territory of the former Polish state. In 1914 Russian forces advanced very close to Kraków before being beaten back. The next spring, heavy fighting occurred around Gorlice and Przemysl, to the east of Kraków in Galicia. By the end of 1915, the Germans had occupied the entire Russian sector, including Warsaw. In 1916 another Russian offensive in Galicia exacerbated the already desperate situation of civilians in the war zone; about 1 million Polish refugees fled eastward behind Russian lines during the war. Although the Russian offensive of 1916 caught the Germans and Austrians by surprise, poor communications and logistics prevented the Russians from taking full advantage of their situation.